Which are the world’s top five busiest airports? You may be surprised to learn that it can be any of up to eleven different airports depending on what you call ‘busiest’. There are measures of busyness by passenger number, including or excluding transit passengers, enplanements; i.e. how many people got on a plane from that airport, or busiest in terms of number of aircraft that arrived or departed from the airport. Finally, you can take into account the amount of cargo that passed through an airport in your search for the busiest airports.
Most people though are interested in the big numbers and that means passenger numbers and on that basis, as well as several others, the runaway winner of world’s busiest airport is definitely Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport in Atlanta Georgia with over 92m passengers last year and the expectation of a slight increase again in 2012.
The second busiest used to be London’s Heathrow Airport but, despite slight increases year on year, it has been eclipsed by the main airport of the world’s new powerhouse economy, China’s Beijing Airport which saw a 10.5% growth in passenger numbers in 2011. London’s former dominance will be challenged further along with the dominance of Atlanta by the world’s super-airports, which will include Tokyo’s Haneda Airport and Dubai International which has just announced plans to increase capacity to over 90m passengers.
Between them, the top five airports handle over half a billion people, which, if that were a country would make it the third most populous in the world. Atlanta handles more people than the population of the UK whilst its aircraft movements are expected to top a million this year or in 2013.
So what are these big airports like?
indoor terminal space covers nearly three quarters of a square kilometre with the airport totalling 2.5km2. There are two terminals; the domestic terminal and the Maynard H Jackson International Terminal. The terminals are joined by a concourse with a further six concourses serving domestic and international flights spaced out between the terminals. Underneath the terminals is a Transportation Mall where a moving walkway and an automatic people mover called the Plane Train also links all seven concourses making transfers between them quick and convenient. The concourses have over 200 gates between them giving you an idea of how many flights are operated each day. Despite it being the biggest east coast hub, it’s only the seventh biggest airport of entry into the US.
Beijing Capital International Airport
is split into three terminals with Terminal 3 being the newest and most incredible building. It’s the second biggest airport terminal in the world and the world’s fifth biggest building. It covers 1.2km2 and has its own transportation centre, more akin to a major railway terminus. It’s on seven levels with two of them underground and has two concourses stretching out from it. The airport’s passenger facilities can be compared to a medium sized town with over seventy places to eat and it has 45,000m2 of retail space with over a hundred shops. Despite the modernity of the airport and its attention to detail, you’ll still have to catch a shuttle bus to get from Terminal 3 to Terminals 1 and 2.
London Heathrow Airport
is at the limit of its expansion and has no more practical room despite there having been plans, now scrapped, for a sixth terminal. There was enough controversy over the construction and opening of Terminal 5 and it’s believed that any further expansion will come from the creation of a ‘virtual’ London airport by linking Heathrow with Gatwick via a high speed rail link giving a journey time of around thirty minutes.
Heathrow is actually the world’s busiest international airport with 93% of traffic heading overseas and is a major European hub. With flights over most of the world, it’s likely to retain its number one position. The first two terminals can be accessed on foot from each other whilst the more distant terminals are connected by the Heathrow Express train, a coach transfer system and stations on the London Underground. There are also plans to add a high speed rail link from Guildford to increase access to the terminals from the south.
is considered by many to be the fourth biggest airport in the world, mainly because of its domestic importance. It has four terminals with nine concourses split between them and has plans to build two more terminals in the future. The terminals and the parking lots are serviced by a rapid transit transport system which is due to be extended and speeded up by adding 24 more cars. Whilst there is local opposition to the airport’s expansion, big business and airlines have committed funds to the expansion and with pending court decisions, it looks likely the expansion will go ahead.
Tokyo’s Haneda Airport
is currently enjoying rapid growth, particularly on its routes to China and in the not too distant future it’s expected to corner the third position ahead of Heathrow. Originally an international airport, then a domestic one and now, once more, increasing its international activity with a dedicated international terminal, its passenger numbers are set to continue their growth. It has two domestic terminals which exclusively serve All Nippon and Japan Airlines flights. There’s a transport system between the two in the form of a railway line which also links the international terminal.
The recession may have reduced passenger numbers for the smaller airports but the inexorable rise in the number of super airports with their better and more wide ranging facilities, keenness to attract business through lower landing charges and their development into towns themselves is concentrating passengers into fewer airports. Better and faster transport links to and from them is beginning to sideline other local airports and so we are likely to see more records being broken with Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport due to breach the 100m passengers milestone within eighteen months.
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