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The World’s Busiest Airports
Airliner World

The World’s Busiest Airports

Posted 17 May 2015   |   1284 views   |   Aviation & Transport   |   Comments (0) Craig West analyses the latest report from airports Council international.

Airports Council International (ACI) has released its 2011 preliminary report for global passenger and cargo traffic, revealing mixed results for the air transport sector.  Though not quite on par with the levels experienced in 2010, passenger traffic continued its strong upwards trend with a 4.9% increase overall while international figures grew by 6.4%, compared to 6.3% and 7.5% respectively for the previous year.  These figures are more impressive given the relative difficulties of 2011 – the year was marred by a challenging financial climate and rocketing fuel prices, exacerbated by civil unrest across North Africa and the Middle East.  The poor trading conditions claimed several high-profile casualties, including Malev and Spanair, while the International Air Transport Association (IATA) reported an average fall in second quarter profits of 40% amongst its members.   

Despite the relative successes of the passenger sector, the air cargo market fell by 0.1% against 2010.

ACI World Director General Angela Gittens commented: “2011 could best be described as a year of global uncertainty.  Cargo traffic slowed for most of the year as business confidence deteriorated in light of the looming Eurozone debt crisis.  International passenger traffic remained relatively unaffected by economies in Europe and North America teetering towards recession.  Despite economic instability and political unrest in many regions of the world, overall, airports continued to experience sustained global passenger growth as compared to 2010.”
Many US carriers have introduced austerity measures in light of difficult trading conditions.
World’s Busiest Airport
The preliminary data covers more than 900 of ACI’s 1,650 members, located in 179 countries across the globe, and although there may be some minor variations when the final report is issued in July, the overall trend, for the passenger sector at least, is expected to be one of positive growth. 

During 2011, expansion of the worldwide passenger sector was relatively steady at between 3% and 6% against the previous year.  April was a notable exception, with a spike of 10.8% attributed to the sharp decline in traffic during the same month in 2010 when an ash cloud caused by the eruption of Icelandic volcano Eyjafjallaj?kull forced the closure of European airspace and led to widespread disruption. 

Atlanta/Hartsfield retains its position as the World's busiest airport as it continues to dominate the field, handling almost 92.4 million passengers during 2011, some 15 million more than second-placed Beijing/Capital.  A 5.4% increase at London/Heathrow, combined with a slight decline of 0.5% at Chicago/O’Hare, one of only four facilities in the top 30 (including Madrid, Tokyo and Houston) that did not grow during 2011, was sufficient to propel the British facility up to third place. 

In North America, economic instability led to airlines introducing austerity programmes and reducing capacity on domestic air transport services which, in turn, restricted growth to a modest 1.8%.  In contrast, the Latin American and Caribbean sectors enjoyed an increase in passenger figures of 8.6%, while the Middle East and Asia-Pacific regions grew by 8.4% and 5.7% respectively.  ACI claimed that airports in emerging markets had accounted for a significant portion of the overall global rise in
figures; this was reflected particularly at airports such as Jakarta/Soekarno-Hatt and Rio de Janeiro/Gale?o-Antonio Carlos Jobim, which both experienced growth of around 20%.
London/Heathrow saw a record number of passengers during 2011
Europe continued to lead the way as a centre for air travel and, despite the economic downturn in the Eurozone, the region handled over 1.5 billion passengers during the year, up 7.1% against 2010.  Strong growth was observed in particular at Barcelona/El Prat, with an increase of 17.8%.   

Unsurprisingly, the political unrest across North Africa had a significant impact on the continent’s air traffic, which declined by 5.9%. 

Air Freight
Air cargo operators, particularly, found that 2011 was a difficult year, as the market declined by 0.1%, with ACI noting that the sector “is more sensitive to pending risks in the business cycle.” International trade suffered badly, especially in Asia and North America, which experienced declines of 1.5% and 0.6% respectively.  Both Hong Kong/Chek Lap Kok and Shanghai/Pudong recorded above-average declines of around 4.5% but retained their positions as the first and third busiest cargo hubs.  Remarkably, the financial instability of the region did little to curb the growth in Europe, which showed a 1.2% increase, while Africa, Latin America and the Middle East all posted positive gains for the year. 

Aircraft Movements
The austerity measures and reduced domestic capacity in the US had a marked impact on aircraft movements, with the top three busiest airports at Hartsfield, O’Hare and Dallas/Fort Worth all recording declines of up to 3%.  However, Atlanta’s 924,000 movements were sufficient to keep the airport number one, while the US continued to dominate and accounted for eight of the top ten facilities in 2011.  Asia, Latin America and the Middle East again experienced growth while Europe also posted an increase.

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