Inside Look At World’s Busiest Airports 2016 (Part 1 – Overview)

2016 Top 30 Busiest Airports - Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson Airport

2016 was another banner year for travel as the world’s airports handled more than 3.7 billion passengers, up a robust 8.6% from the previous record level from 2015. It comes as no surprise though, especially with the use of chauffeur cars to get passengers to their flights on time! The total passenger count was almost half of the world’s total population (estimated at ~7.5 billion currently). Experience The Skies compiled the world’s top 30 busiest airports (also known as “most travelled” in the aviation industry) and provides an insider look at what made them successful over the past five years in a multiple part series (Related Insights from 2013, 2014 Part 1 / Part 2 and 2015 Part 1 / Part 2 / Part 3).

Busiest Airports Over The Past Five Years (2012-2016)


First off is a quick recap of 2016 passenger and cargo metrics courtesy of the International Air Transport Association (IATA). The airline association produced the following video showing the record growth for the industry. Just while we’re recapping you may be interested in this infographic of the 10 Best and Worst Airports In The US.

Top 30 – 2016 vs 2015

The top 30 busiest airports carried 1.89 billion passengers, up 5.1% from a year ago. 28 out of the 30 airports (93%) had an increase in passenger volume with the exception Frankfurt Airport (FRA) and Istanbul Atatürk Airport (IST). New Delhi’s Indira Gandhi International Airport (DEL) won the most improved award with a tremendous 21% improvement. The percentage increase is the highest over the past five years. Population growth, open domestic / international market driving significantly new airline capacity and higher propensity to travel by plane pushed the airport to jump from no. 48 to 21 overall.

Top 30 – The Five Year Look

The top 30 carried 20.7% more passengers than five years ago. Top 5 highest growth airports established themselves with big population, capacity expansion through route management or newly built terminals. They also have at least a 45.7% growth over that stretch of time. Indira Gandhi International Airport (DEL) again led the pack with a growth rate of 62.6%. It is an impressive number especially since the airport has not introduced new capacity since 2010 when terminal 3 opened. At the other end of the spectrum, Soekarno–Hatta International Airport (CGK) in Jakarta struggled and is the only airport on the list with a negative growth rate of 4.8%. Big established airports in New York City, London, Tokyo, Los Angeles and Frankfurt also had a more difficult time driving better results due to terminal/runway constraints, air space congestion and built out route network not benefitting from new low cost carrier entrants.

Best of the Best No. 1-10

2016 Rank 2015 Rank 2014 Rank 2013 Rank 2012 Rank Highest Peak Since 2000 (Peaked Year) Airport Name City Country IATA Airport Code 2016 Total
2012 Total
Change from 2015
Change from 2012
1 1 1 1 1 1 (2000) Hartsfield–Jackson Atlanta International Airport Atlanta United States United States ATL 104,171,935 94,956,643 Increase2.6% Increase9.7%
2 2 2 2 2 2 (2010) Beijing Capital International Airport Beijing China China PEK 94,393,454 81,929,359 Increase5.0% Increase15.2%
3 3 6 7 10 3 (2015) Dubai International Airport Dubai United Arab Emirates United Arab Emirates DXB 83,654,250 57,684,550 Increase7.2% Increase45.0%
4 7 5 6 6 3 (2000) Los Angeles International Airport Los Angeles United States United States LAX 80,921,527 63,688,121 Increase8.0% Increase27.1%
5 5 5 4 4 4 (2002) Tokyo Haneda Airport Tokyo Japan Japan HND 79,699,762 67,788,722 Increase5.8% Increase17.6%
6 4 7 5 5 2 (2008) O’Hare International Airport Chicago United States United States ORD 78,327,479 66,834,931 Increase1.8% Increase17.2%
7 6 3 3 3 2 (2009) Heathrow Airport London United Kingdom United Kingdom LHR 75,715,474 70,037,417 Increase1.0% Increase8.1%
8 8 10 11 12 8 (2015) Hong Kong International Airport Hong Kong China China HKG 70,314,462 56,064,248 Increase3.0% Increase25.4%
9 13 19 21 21 9 (2016) Shanghai Pudong International Airport Shanghai China China PVG 66,002,414 44,880,164 Increase9.9% (No. 4) Increase47.1% (No. 4)
10 9 8 8 7 5 (2008) Charles de Gaulle Airport Paris France France CDG 65,933,145 61,611,934 Increase0.3% Increase7.0%
  • The no. 1 crown continues to be held by Hartsfield–Jackson Atlanta International Airport (ATL) located in Atlanta, United States. It is a key hub for the world’s third biggest airline by passenger count, Delta Air Lines (DL). The airport remains the only one in the world to handle over 100 million passengers yearly (first achieved in 2015). The airport has an ambitious masterplan to drive more growth for the next decade with runway and terminal improvements playing a central part to that.
  • No. 2 is held by Beijing’s Capital International Airport (PEK). The airport has held this spot since 2010 and is home to Air China (CA). The congested airport has reached its maximum capacity. The city is in the process of constructing another airport south of the downtown area in time for the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics (Related News – Beijing – Where Is The New Airport Being Built). Potential upside to PEK will be limited.
  • This is the first year over the past five that Dubai International Airport (DXB) had not moved up the list. The no. 3 ranked airport continues to have the world’s most connecting traffic owing to mainly to Emirates (EK)’s operations there. The airport has a capacity of around 93 million passengers. In a couple of years when this is reached, some airlines including the entire Emirates and FlyDubai operations might be relocated to the newer Al Maktoum International Airport (DWC) which can handle up to 160 million passengers yearly.
  • Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) has not gotten as high as no.4 since it peaked at no.3 in 2000 and2001. This airport has the most terminals (eight) in the top 10 and has some of the most airlines serving it with the double decker Boeing 747s and Airbus A380s. The city is embarking on one of the biggest multi-modal transportation projects in the United States which will solve some of passenger complaints from getting to the airport.
  • Tokyo has two major international airports. The one closest to downtown, Haneda Airport (HND) is also the busiest of the two with a no.5 ranking in 2016. As the Japanese aviation authority and the government continue to open ease operational restrictions to this airport, expect strong growth to continue past the 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics.
  • The rest of the top 10 include many familiar international cities such as Chicago, London, Hong Kong, Paris and Shanghai. The main highlightin this group is Shanghai Pudong International Airport (PVG) making its first appearance in the top 10 with the fourth best % of year to year passenger growth out of the top 30 at 9.9%. Higher population count, airline alliance involvement (Related Insight: How Would Delta Build A Shanghai Hub) and more tourism out of China contributed to the strong numbers. Fun fact: PVG is the only one in the top 30 with a Maglev train operated between airport to the city.

Next Best 11-20

2016 Rank 2015 Rank 2014 Rank 2013 Rank 2012 Rank Highest Peak Since 2000 (Peaked Year) Airport Name City Country IATA Airport Code 2016 Total
2012 Total
Change from 2015
Change from 2012
11 10 9 9 8 5 (2000) Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport Dallas-Fort Worth United States United States DFW 65,670,697 58,591,842 Increase0.2% Increase12.1%
12 14 14 14 16 9 (2004) Amsterdam Airport Schiphol Amsterdam The Netherlands Netherlands AMS 63,625,534 51,035,590 Increase9.2%(No.5) Increase24.7%
13 12 11 12 11 7 (2000) Frankfurt Airport Frankfurt Germany Germany FRA 60,786,937 57,520,001 Decrease0.4% Increase5.7%
14 11 13 18 20 11 (2015) Istanbul Atatürk Airport Istanbul Turkey Turkey IST 60,248,741 44,992,420 Decrease1.7% Increase33.9%
15 17 15 16 18 15 (2014) Guangzhou Baiyun International Airport Guangzhou China China CAN 59,732,147 48,548,430 Increase8.2% Increase23.0%
16 15 17 19 17 12 (2009) John F. Kennedy International Airport New York City United States United States JFK 58,813,103 49,293,587 Increase3.4% Increase19.2%
17 16 16 13 15 13 (2013) Singapore Changi Airport Singapore Singapore Singapore SIN 58,698,000 51,181,804 Increase5.9% Increase14.7%
18 19 18 15 13 11 (2000) Denver International Airport Colorado United States United States DEN 58,266,515 53,156,278 Increase7.9% Increase9.6%
19 22 23 25 29 19 (2016) Seoul Incheon International Airport Incheon Republic of Korea South Korea ICN 57,849,814 39,154,375 Increase17.1% (No.2) Increase47.7% (No. 3)
20 20 22 17 14 14 (2012) Suvarnabhumi Airport Bangkok Thailand Thailand BKK 55,892,428 53,002,328 Increase5.7% Increase5.5%
  • At no.11, Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport (DFW) dropped out of the top 10 for the first time since this decade began. Growth has been slowed as the dominant player, American Airlines (AA), had not been adding more domestic and international capacity due to minimal competitive pressure.
  • At no.12, Amsterdam Airport Schiphol (AMS) moved up two spots due to increase international capacity added by its home airline, KLM using the Boeing 787 (Related News – KLM Delays Boeing 787 Introduction to November 2015) and big low cost carriers presence. Locating close to downtown did not stop the airport from building ahead and performed better than the five year average with a growth rate of 24.7%.
  • At no.14, Istanbul Atatürk Airport (IST)’s upward momentum stopped in 2016 as traffic dropped by 1.7% due to terrorist attacks and geopolitical pressures slowing down tourism into the country. Even with less passengers, the airport still had a five year growth rate of over 33%. IST is highly congested and will be replaced by a new airport currently being constructed. Opening in 12-18 months, the new site has a 90 million capacity to start and can be expanded up to handle up to 200 million passenger yearly. (Related News – Istanbul New Airport To Open in 2018).
  • At no.19, Seoul Incheon International Airport (ICN) made its first appearance in the top 20 with the second best 17.1% year to year growth and a third best 47.7% growth over five years. The momentum is driven from competition between its network carriers Korean Air Lines (KL) and Asiana Airlines (OZ) and with low cost carriers from its home country, China and Japan.
  • Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport (BKK) is at no.20. The airport has not enjoyed significant expansion. One of the reasons is the re-introduction of the old capital airport Don Mueang Airport (DMK) for low cost carrier operations. The country’s aviation authority also failed an ICAO safety audit back in 2015 (Related News – Thai Aviation Industry Is On Significant Safety Concerns Alert) which impacted airlines operating there from adding capacity to the United States. Thai Airways also ended all US operations in 2015. (Related News – Thai Airways Ends North American Service After 35 Years).

Rest of the Best 21-30

2016 Rank 2015 Rank 2014 Rank 2013 Rank 2012 Rank Highest Peak Since 2000 (Peaked Year) Airport Name City Country IATA Airport Code 2016 Total
2012 Total
Change from 2015
Change from 2012
21 25 31 31 48 21 (2016) Indira Gandhi International Airport New Delhi India India DEL 55,631,385 34,211,608 Increase21.0% (No.1) Increase62.6% (No.1)
22 18 12 10 9 9 (2012) Soekarno–Hatta International Airport Jakarta Indonesia Indonesia CGK 54,969,536 57,730,732 Increase1.7% Decrease4.8%
23 21 21 22 22 9 (2000) San Francisco International Airport San Francisco United States United States SFO 53,099,282 44,431,894 Increase6.1% Increase19.5%
24 23 20 20 27 20 (2013) Kuala Lumpur International Airport Kuala Lumpur Malaysia Malaysia KUL 52,640,043 39,887,866 Increase7.6% Increase32.0%
25 24 27 29 19 10 (2007) Madrid Barajas Airport Madrid Spain Spain MAD 50,397,928 45,175,501 Increase7.7% Increase11.6%
26 26 25 24 23 12 (2000) McCarran International Airport Las Vegas United States United States LAS 47,496,614 41,666,527 Increase4.5% Increase14.0%
27 32 38 44 46 27 (2016) Chengdu Shuangliu International Airport Chengdu China China CTU 46,039,137 31,599,353 Increase9.0% Increase45.7% (No. 5)
28 31 40 42 40 25 (2003) Seattle-Tacoma International Airport Seattle United States United States SEA 45,736,700 33,219,723 Increase8.0% Increase37.7%
29 35 47 48 29 (2016) Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport Mumbai India India BOM 44,680,555 30,038,696 Increase10.0% (No.3) Increase48.7% (No. 2)
30 28 29 26 28 19 (2001) Miami International Airport Miami United States United States MIA 44,584,603 39,467,444 Increase0.5% Increase13.0%
  • Indira Gandhi International Airport (DEL) holds the no.21 spot. As mentioned earlier, the airport had explosive growth over last calendar year.. Most domestic and international airlines choose DEL to add capacity when they first enter service into India or expand. Domestic competition is extreme strong with no less than eleven network and low cost carriers calling this airport as their hub. DEL has not expanded since terminal 3 was completed in 2010. The airport authority has submitted plans for a fourth terminal and runway for approval. There are no announcements regarding when the new capacity will be built to handle the increased travel demand.
  • Below at no.22 is Soekarno–Hatta International Airport which has been on a decline since placing no. 9 five years ago. While low cost carrier AirAsia continues to expand there, its network carrier Garuda Indonesia is still strategizing its plans for the future. This will hamper the airport’s overall growth.
  • No. 27 and 29 plays host to airports cracking the top 30 for the first time. Both Chengdu Shuangliu International Airport (CTU) and Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport (BOM) have some of the highest (year to year and five year) passenger growth on the list and are located in major cities. They are both looking to make continued gains in 2017 with new domestic and international service. In another first, the world’s two most populated countries, China and India, now have five airports on the top 30 list.
  • In between CTU and BOM is Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SEA), which made a big return to the top 30 list at no.28. Both Alaska Airlines (AS) and Delta Air Lines (DL) continued their turf war at this airport and added significant capacity over the past 24 months. Seattle is also home to technology giants Microsoft and Amazon which contributed to new international routes. Its five year growth rate of 37.7% ranked it the highest for all US airports and just missed the top 5 best list.
  • Less than 1% passenger count separated no. 30 to no.33 airports. Miami International Airport (MIA) ultimately won the contest at the final tally and earned the last spot on the list. The bad news is that this may be its last appearance. The airport has been on a steady decline with a five year growth rate that ranked it in the bottom 30% since United Airlines (UA) pulled out and more non-stop flights were added to the continental United States bypassing this airport as a connection point.

In future posts, we will examine some of the key factors such as mobility, traveller amenities, social media, retail mix and multi-modal facilities which made these airports successful.

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