ACI World - global passenger traffic up by 53% in 2022; movements by 20%; cargo down


Airport Council International’s (ACI) recently released statistics for 2022 hold no real surprises.

Passenger traffic rebounded as travel restrictions were removed, in some cases too quickly for ill-prepared airports. Movements were up, but not to the same degree, while cargo, which had prospered during the pandemic, decreased.

After a brief interlude when airports like Guangzhou in China found themselves with the accolade of being the world’s ‘busiest’, Atlanta has resumed its #1 position in that category, and Dubai has done the same in the international airport category.

The most interesting conclusion to have arisen is that five US airports remain in the Top 10 globally for movements, and the reasons for that are partly because of the large share of US air traffic that is domestic (currently 77.5%) and because the hub and spoke system remains intact. Intact even five decades after it arose out of deregulation there, even though it has meant that some small airports have lost service altogether.


  • ACI reports global passenger traffic up by 54% in 2022.
  • Top 10 airports account for 10% of passengers.
  • Movements up by 20%; cargo down by 7%.
  • Atlanta is the busiest airport, Dubai tops for international passengers.
  • Domestic passenger share influenced the position of five US airports in the passenger table and almost all the top 10 airports for movements are there.
  • The top five airports for cargo are in Asia Pacific.

ACI World: global passenger traffic up by 54% in 2022

ACI World, the global organisation representing airports, reports that global passenger traffic increased by 53.5% year-on-year to nearly seven billion in 2022, based on preliminary figures. Traffic recovered to 73.8% of the 2019 level.

With a world population of 7.9 billion, that means that 87% of that population flew in 2022.

Of course, that is totally misleading. In reality around 11% of the population flies in any one year and frequent flyers for business reasons are disproportionately represented.

One statistic has it that while there are three million people in the air at any one time, only 5% of the world’s population has flown.

Top 10 airports represent 10% of global traffic

More mundanely, ACI reports that the top 10 airports for passenger traffic represented 10% of global traffic. Traffic at the top 10 airports increased by 51.7% and recovered to 85.9% of the 2019 level.

The top 10 airports in 2022 with their passenger total, the increase over the previous year and compared to 2019 are listed in the table below.

Top 10 airports in 2022, with passenger total and comparison with 2019 and 2021


Passenger total 2022, millions

Vs. 2021 (%)

Vs. 2019 (%)





Dallas-Fort Worth








Chicago O’Hare








Los Angeles







+24.0 *

London Heathrow








Paris CDG







Only one exceeded its pre-pandemic total

There are some interesting statistics arising from this short table.

At every airport there was an increase in 2022 over 2021, as expected. But only one airport, Denver, exceeded its pre-pandemic total, from the benchmark year of 2019, and only just – by 0.4%.

Istanbul also did, but cannot be counted for the reason given in the note above.

Dallas-Fort Worth Airport came close.

A passenger backlash overwhelmed Heathrow as it bounced back up the table

The biggest increase by far was at London Heathrow (+217.6%); one that was disproportionately influenced by harsh government restrictions in 2020/21, followed by an immediate (almost diarrheal) loosening at the beginning of 2022 as borders were dramatically reopened.

Heathrow improved from 54th in 2021 to eighth. (Circumstances were similar in France, influencing the figures at Paris Charles de Gaulle airport).

Domestic passenger share influenced the position of five US airports in the table

Before the pandemic the US may never have had five airports in the world’s top 10, let alone the leading four, but there are extenuating circumstances.

As CAPA has previously pointed out, the five US airports in the top 10 had significant domestic passenger shares, which were not so severely affected by the pandemic, accounting for 75% to 95% of traffic. Hence, increases were not as large in 2023, despite their positions in the table, as there was not so much traffic to recoup.

Dubai resumes as #1 international passenger airport; London Gatwick makes a surprise entry

The top 10 airports for international passengers were Dubai International Airport, London Heathrow Airport, (those two have battled for that accolade for several years), Amsterdam Schiphol Airport (which now faces flight capping), Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport, Istanbul Airport, Frankfurt Airport, Madrid Barajas Airport, Doha Hamad International Airport, Singapore Changi Airport and London Gatwick Airport.

London Gatwick, in particular, has done well to battle back from the hammering it took in the first two years of the COVID pandemic, when it lost Virgin Atlantic and many British Airways long haul services.

ACI World Director General Luis Felipe de Oliveira commented: "We are now witnessing global hubs joining the upper ranks". He added: "The reopening of China... is now expected to bring an overall gain, both domestically and for international travel".

The interesting thing for most observers will be to what degree the non-international hubs like Denver and Dallas can retain their position in 2023. Their growth in the first two months of 2023 was actually higher than in 2022, but in the early twenties per cent, compared to 44% at Istanbul and 75% at Heathrow, and Asia Pacific in general is only just getting going again.

Looking back to 2019, Beijing Capital (2nd), Tokyo Haneda (5th) and Shanghai Pudong (8th) all featured in the Top 10 and might be pushing for re-entry in 2023, although more likely 2024.

On the other hand, Dallas was already placed 10th in 2019 and Denver 16th.

Ratio of 10 airports for movements is not as high as for passengers

ACI World also reported on global aircraft movements for 2022.

They increased by 20.4% year-on-year, less than half the increase in the number of passengers (which should bring comfort to environmentalists at least in the short term – more passengers on fewer flights), to nearly 89 million in 2022, recovering to 82.5% of the 2019 level.

The top 10 airports for aircraft movements accounted for nearly 7% of global movements (5.7 million), slightly less than the percentage of passengers and indicating a continuing, if slight, shift in the popularity of sub-primary and secondary airports. Movements at the top 10 airports increased by 11.4% and recovered to 91.5% of the 2019 level.

The top 10 airports were Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, on 724,000 movements (+2.3% from 2021 but still below its 2019 result of 904,000, which is -19.9%), Chicago O'Hare International Airport (712,000, +4%, after leading Atlanta in 2019), Dallas Fort Worth International Airport (657,000, +0.7%) , Denver International Airport, Las Vegas Harry Reid International Airport, Los Angeles International Airport, Charlotte Douglas International Airport, Miami International Airport, New York John F Kennedy International Airport and Istanbul Airport.

Almost all the top airports for movements are in the US

What stands out here is that nine of the Top 10 are in continental USA.

All of them perpetuate the hub and spoke system, mainly of domestic traffic, that grew out of the 1970s industry deregulation in the US. All of them have (a) dominant airline(s), and (it) they continue(s) to prevail, despite the best efforts of LCCs and ULCCs like Spirit Airlines, Allegiant Air, Frontier Airlines et al.

Most handle waves or complexes of hub/spoke services throughout the day, and the majority of flights are short haul, with high frequency.

Las Vegas Harry Reid International Airport: network map for the week commencing 17-Apr-2023

Above and below are the current domestic route maps for two sample airports: Las Vegas (which lies just outside the Top 10 for passengers in the 2022 preliminary results at #12), and Charlotte Douglas (#19).

Las Vegas was selected because it is a more of a point-to-point airport, based on the city's attraction as a leisure resort, and Charlotte Douglas as an example of a secondary hub.

In both cases, especially that of Charlotte Douglas, the high concentration of short distance flights is evident.

Las Vegas draws many of its gambling customers from the west coast of the US, with high frequencies and flights throughout the day and night.

Charlotte Douglas International Airport: network map for the week commencing 17-Apr-2023

Charlotte Douglas, on the other hand, acts predominantly as a hub between the Midwest and Northeast of the US and the south and southeast.

The table below shows, for each of these nine US airports, the dominant airline by its percentage of off-peak movements and the most frequent services by length of flight (as measured by seat capacity on those flights).

For purposes of comparison only, Istanbul (position #10 for movements in the global table) is also included.

All figures are for the week commencing 10-Apr-2023.

Top US airports and dominant airline(s), percentage of off-peak movements and most frequent length of flight (hours)


Dominant airline(s) by its/their percentage of off-peak movements

Most frequent length of flight

(hours) (system)


Delta Air Lines (75.4%)

2-4 hours (47.2%)

Chicago O’Hare

United Airlines (46.1%); American Airlines (29.4%)

2-4 hours (51.8%)

Dallas-Fort Worth

American Airlines (81.4%)

2-4 hours (68.5%)


United Airlines (47.4); Southwest Airlines (31.5%)

2-4 hours (70.5%)

Las Vegas

Southwest Airlines (38.2%); Spirit Airlines (13.5%)

2-4 hours (39.4%)

Los Angeles

Delta Air Lines (18.5%); American Airlines (16.3%)

2-4 hours (27.2%)

Charlotte Douglas

American Airlines (89%)

2-4 hours (48.2%)


American Airlines (60.2%)

2-4 hours (61.5%)

New York JFK

Delta Air Lines (33.4%); JetBlue Airways (29.6%)

4-6 hours (24.4 %)



Turkish Airlines (78.7%)

2-4 hours (41.7%)

That will probably remain the case while the hub and spoke system remains popular

The figures speak for themselves.

The US remains fundamentally wedded to the hub and spoke system, with connecting waves of flights of two to four hours (and more around two hours when there is a deeper dive into the statistics) accounting for 70% of capacity, and with extensive scheduling throughout the day.

Ergo, it will always have airports in the global top 10 for movements.

Las Vegas is one of the two outliers here, with both its two main airlines being LCC/ULCC, and a predominance of O&D traffic, which is supported by those airlines.

Also New York JFK, which is less of a hub than peers like Chicago O’Hare and Atlanta (and always has been). JFK is multi-terminal, which isn’t conducive to hubbing, and there is no dominant airline that engages in hub operations.

Global air cargo volumes down in 2022, but cargo kept some airports going through the COVID pandemic

Finally, ACI World turned its attention to cargo.

As CAPA has recently reported in Air cargo makes a soft start to 2023 – decline across all regions except Latin America in Jan-2023, cargo had a disconcertingly soft start to 2023, raising concerns about a possible stalling of passenger recovery, which hasn’t happened yet.

ACI estimated that global air cargo volumes had decreased by 6.7% year-on-year, to nearly 117 million tonnes in 2022. Volumes decreased by 1.7% compared to 2019.

The top 10 airports for air cargo traffic accounted for approximately 27% of global volumes, a greater ratio than for passengers. Volumes at the top 10 airports decreased by 9.9%, but exceeded the 2019 level by 4.1%.

In reality, air cargo had, of course, become a lifeline during the COVID-19 pandemic. ACI attributed the decline compared to 2021 to "ongoing geopolitical tensions and disruptions to global trade and supply chains".

The top 10 airports were Hong Kong International Airport, Memphis International Airport, Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport, Shanghai Pudong International Airport, Louisville Muhammad Ali International Airport, Seoul Incheon International Airport, Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport, Miami International Airport, Los Angeles International Airport and Tokyo Narita Airport.

Memphis and Louisville are two notable airports for parcels operations, while arguably it is cargo that has kept airports such as Shanghai Pudong, Seoul Incheon, Taiwan Taoyuan and Tokyo Narita going.

CAPA has previously reported on the Anchorage airport, notably in Anchorage Airport regains its ‘prominence in air cargo’ from Jul-2020. Once an important hub for east-west passenger traffic, Anchorage has reinvented itself as a cargo hub specialising in e-commerce.

The top 10 airports for international cargo were Hong Kong International Airport, Seoul Incheon International Airport, Shanghai Pudong International Airport, Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport, Tokyo Narita Airport, Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport, Doha Hamad International Airport, Miami International Airport, Frankfurt Airport and Singapore Changi Airport.

The predominance of Asia Pacific airports in the top half of that list is testament to the ever-growing economic power of the region.

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