CAPA Airport Traffic Database tops 1,000 airports. Asian/BRIC airports dominate growth charts


CAPA's Airport Traffic Database, one of the eight components of the Airport Data Suite, now has monthly and annual data for over 1000 airports worldwide.

Specifically, the database has monthly traffic data for 1030 airports and annual data for 1265 airports, to add to the 200 (monthly) and 275 (annual) airlines data, traffic data for 15 countries, and tourism statistics for 27 countries that are held separately. These numbers increase daily as CAPA sources and adds additional airport statistics.

This report considers some of the features and benefits of the CAPA Airport Traffic Database by reference to examples.

  • CAPA's Airport Traffic Database has monthly and annual data for over 1000 airports worldwide.
  • Bangkok's Don Mueang Airport experienced the highest passenger growth in 2013 among airports with over 15 million passengers per annum.
  • 18 of the top 25 airports for passenger growth in the 5-15 million passengers per annum category are in the Asia Pacific region.
  • The database allows for comparisons between primary airports and nearby secondary and tertiary level airports.
  • The database can be used to track passenger and cargo growth in heavily contested regions, such as the Gulf and Europe.
  • The database can provide insights into traffic growth at airports that are threatened by closure, such as Blackpool, Parma, and Strasbourg.

Bangkok's Don Mueang was the fastest growing large airport in 2013

One of the more surprising statistics to arise out of the air traffic database is the location of the principal airports that saw the highest passenger growth figures in 2013. In the table below for example (Table 1) of airports with a passenger throughput of over 15 million per annum, some of the airports that one might expect to find are indeed there in the table, such as Dubai and Istanbul Ataturk.

But few would have expected Bangkok's Don Mueang Airport, virtually written off five years ago in favour of the newer Suvarnabhumi Airport, would have been so much in favour latterly (mainly by low cost airlines) that it would have registered growth of 175% in 2013, far ahead of any of the others in its class?

Table 1: Global airports passenger traffic growth: 2013 vs. 2012, annual passenger throughput of 15+ million, top 25





Bangkok Don Mueang International Airport




Istanbul Sabiha Gokcen Airport




Kunming Airport




Kuala Lumpur International Airport




Hangzhou Airport




Dubai International Airport




Urumqi Airport




Chongqing Jiangbei International Airport




Xiamen Gaoqi International Airport




Istanbul Ataturk Airport




Abu Dhabi International Airport




Wuhan Airport




Moscow Sheremetyevo Airport




Xian Airport




Bogota El Dorado International Airport




Osaka Kansai International Airport




Cancun Airport




Taipei Taoyuan International Airport




Doha International Airport




Sao Paulo Guarulhos International Airport




Shenzhen Airport




Riyadh King Khaled International Airport




Fukuoka Airport




Jeju Airport




Guangzhou Baiyun Airport




Other airports stand out, such as:

  • Urumqi, in China's 'undeveloped' northwest region;
  • Istanbul's often overlooked Sabiha Gokcen Airport, where TAV, the owner/operator of Ataturk Airport, is taking over the 40% equity share of Limak Group as it prepares to do battle with the new Istanbul Airport; and
  • Cancun, the only outright vacation resort airport in the top 25, which enjoyed more growth than did Mexico City's capacity constrained Juarez Airport (+6.9%) in 2013.

18 of the airports are in the Asia Pacific region (counting Turkey and Russia as Asia); four are in the Middle East, and three in Latin America. North America and Europe do not figure at all. Neither does Africa, but there are only two airports there in this category (Johannesburg and Cairo). Eleven of them are in the BRIC countries.

15 of the top 25 airports for passenger growth in the 5-15 million passengers per annum category are in Asia Pacific

Turning to airports in the category of 5-15 million passengers per annum (Table 2), a similar pattern emerges, with even more emphasis on Asia (20 airports), two in the Middle East and two in Latin America. Europe makes a single entry with Heraklion Airport on the vacation island of Crete.

In this 5-15 million category 15 of the top 25 are in the BRIC countries and all but two of them are in China (Moscow Vnukovo and Saint Petersburg Pulkovo) .

Table 2 Global airports passenger traffic growth: 2013 vs. 2012, annual passenger throughput of 5 to 15 million, top 25





Medellin Jose Maria Cordova Airport




Tianjin Airport




Lanzhou Zhongchuan Airport




Chiang Mai International Airport




Guiyang Airport




Phuket International Airport




Kota Kinabalu Airport




Ankara Esenboga Airport




Wenzhou Airport




Panama City Tocumen International Airport




Nanning Airport




Changchun Airport




Moscow Vnukovo Airport




Saint Petersburg Pulkovo Airport




Qingdao Liuting International Airport




Penang International Airport




Taiyuan Airport




Heraklion Nikos Kazantzakis Airport




Fuzhou Airport




Sanya Airport




Dammam King Fahad International Airport




Nanchang Airport




Hohhot Airport




Sharjah Airport




Zhengzhou Airport




The database permits users the opportunity, for example, to compare primary airports with other primary ones in their vicinity, or which are competing globally for hub traffic and also with nearby secondary and tertiary level ones.

One way in which is the database is most useful is in its ability to compare passenger traffic and cargo volume at designated airports both from the viewpoint of recency (for example 2014 to date) and of history, for example over the last five years.

Frankfurt's International and Hahn airports compared

Taking an example from Germany, a comparison of the global hub and main base for Lufthansa, Frankfurt International (FRA) and Frankfurt Hahn airport (HNH), 100 km away and handling in the main low cost passenger airlines and cargo flights.

As long as Lufthansa remains one of the leading full service/network airlines in the world, a principal member of the Star Alliance and engages in large scale hubbing activity at a city that is at the same time central to much of Germany and one of Europe's most important financial centres, FRA's future seems to be secure.

HNH on the other hand, an ex military base that avoided closure only because some far-sighted politicians envisaged it could offer a freight alternative to FRA, and which subsequently became an early European base for Ryanair, has been in and out of the private sector and these days has to fight hard to retain both its passenger and cargo services.

In Charts 1 and 2 below we compare passenger traffic growth (PTG) at the two airports from Jan-2010 to Dec-2012 (two arbitrary dates that lie in the middle of the economic crisis in Europe) using both bar and line charts for the same period.

In Chart 3 we compare PTG at both airports in 2014 to date (Jan to Aug). The database is updated every month as soon as statistics are released.

Chart 1 Annual Traffic Comparison for Frankfurt Airport, Frankfurt Hahn Airport from Jan-2010 to Dec-2012

Chart 2 Traffic comparison for Frankfurt Airport, Frankfurt Hahn Airport from Jan-2010 to Dec-2012

Chart 3 Passenger traffic growth comparison for Frankfurt Airport, Frankfurt Hahn Airport from Jan-2014 to Oct-2014

Finally, in Charts 4 and 5 we return to a historical perspective - cargo volume growth at both airports in the three years between Jan-2010 and Dec-2012; again displaying by both bar and the more detailed line charts.

Chart 4 Annual Freight Volume Growth Comparison for Frankfurt Airport, Frankfurt Hahn Airport from Jan-2010 to Dec-2012 (Tonnes)

Chart 5 Freight volume Growth Comparison for Frankfurt Airport, Frankfurt Hahn Airport from Jan-2010 to Dec-2012

What can we learn from these charts?

In Chart 1 it can be seen that while FRA has experienced fairly consistent passenger growth over the three years, in the range 2%-8%, which is typical of a large hub airport in the economic climate of the time, the fall in traffic at HNH varied from 8% to 18% in the same period.

Not only that, the largest fall at HNH mirrored the period of greatest growth at FRA. Examining the matter in more detail in the line chart (Chart 2), it can be seen there were two peaks or troughs; a peak in Mar-2011 that was equivalent at both airports and a peak at FRA that was matched by a similar fall at HNH in Dec-2011/Jan-2012. It is also notable that HNH's performance then improved steadily for 12 months until the end of 2012.

Chart 3 however, a line graph of traffic at both airports in 2014 to date, shows that while FRA continues to demonstrate resilience, with growth in the range 1% to 5% despite a stagnant economy in the Euro zone and the effect of German tourist taxes, the same cannot be said of HNH, where there was positive growth in only one month (Feb-2014) and where otherwise there has been negative growth varying between -2% and -18% in the period in question.

These interpretations indicate that Hahn Airport continues to struggle to find a fulfilling passenger role.

Considering that HNH was first conceived as a cargo airport reliever (as many ex-military facilities are) for FRA, what future might it have fulfilling that role now?

Judging from the statistics in Charts 4 and 5, HNH does have a cargo future - but it is indeterminate.

Chart 4 demonstrates that there was growth in tonnage in both 2010 and 2011 (+75% in that year, when FRA was flatlining), but that it followed FRA into a trough in 2012, losing 25% of its tonnage. Against a background of stagnant cargo growth worldwide for several years now this degree of performance has become the norm for many airports that have freight listed highly in their business portfolio.

Looking into the matter further in the line Chart 5, it is evident that, apart from occasional blips, FRA business has been steady, even if that means steady in decline. In contrast, HNH's line is anything but consistent, with several periods of peak and trough activity in a way that suggests cyclicality in the business.

All these statistics open the door to further analysis.

Comparing major cities within a country, or in neighbouring countries, where there might be traffic between the city-pairs.

Examples include Rome-Milan; Madrid-Barcelona; and Kuala Lumpur-Singapore

Charts 6 and 7 are line charts for 2014 to date traffic comparing the four Rome and Milan airports (two each), while Charts 8 and 9 look at Madrid and Barcelona and Charts 10 and 11 consider Kuala Lumpur and Singapore.

Chart 6 Traffic Comparison (actual pax numbers) for Rome Fiumicino Airport, Rome Ciampino Airport, Milan Malpensa Airport, and Milan Linate Airport, from Jan-2014 to Oct-2014

Chart 7 Traffic Comparison (pax % growth) for Rome Fiumicino Airport, Milan Malpensa Airport, Milan Linate Airport, Rome Ciampino Airport from Jan-2014 to Oct-2014

Rome's Ciampino Airport is declining against its neighbours

These charts (6/7) demonstrate that while traffic overall stayed fairly constant at all four airports in this period compared with the previous one (Chart 6), and while growth levels also remained stable at Rome Fiumicino and Milan Linate airports, the growth/decline levels were far more staccato at Rome Ciampino and Milan Malpensa airports (Chart 7). Fiumicino is the primary airport in Rome.

It is a hub for what is left of Alitalia and it handles much more network traffic than does Ciampino, which is dominated by Ryanair, which has now commenced operations at Fiumicino airport - where it can attract more business passengers.

The same is not quite so true in the case of the Milan airports, indicating that the spike in growth in May-2014 at Malpensa (+35%) was a one-off event. It is clear though that Rome's Ciampino Airport is in decline with growth shrinking from almost 40% in Jan-2014 to -5% in Jul-2014.

Chart 8 Traffic comparison (pax numbers) for Madrid Barajas Airport, Barcelona El Prat Airport from Jan-2014 to Oct-2014

Chart 9 Traffic comparison (pax % growth) for Madrid Barajas Airport, Barcelona El Prat Airport from Jan-2014 to Oct-2014

Madrid and Barcelona airports fight it out for national supremacy

The contrast between these two Spanish heavyweight cities is fascinating. As the Spanish base for International Airlines Group (IAG), which has slashed many Iberia domestic and international services at Madrid Barajas airport and equally because of a charges hike by operator AENA, that facility has fared much worse in the last two years than has Barcelona, which is the main base for the Vueling airline; also part of IAG.

As can be seen in Chart 8 Barcelona rapidly gained on its adversary in an aeronautical version of 'El Classico', the Real Madrid vs. Barcelona soccer matches and, as predicted by CAPA earlier this year, caught up with and passed Madrid between Jun-2014 and Aug-2014. But the pax growth chart (9) tells a slightly different story, with Madrid fighting back in the early part of 2014 as some Latin American services were restored, either by Iberia or Air Europa, and holding its own during the summer months as Barcelona briefly wavered only for it to rally again between July and August.

This contest, one that is quickly becoming more of a bullfight than a soccer match, seems set to run and run and is further complicated by the massive gains that high speed rail travel between the two cities has made over the last five years. (Note: In future, comparative rail passenger data will also be added to this database once technical issues are overcome, to add value to these city comparisons).

Kuala Lumpur and Singapore airports hit by accidents and wider Asian economic issues

There are equally big competitions such as Madrid vs. Barcelona in the Asia Pacific (AP) region. The contrast between Kuala Lumpur (KLIA) and Singapore Changi airports needs to be set in the context of uncertain traffic growth in Asia Pacific just now and also of the rival low cost terminals that were opened in 2006.

Kuala Lumpur's was subsequently replaced by a much bigger (and very expensive) one ('KLIA2') while Changi abandoned its LCT in favour of building two more full service ones.

Chart 10 Traffic comparison (pax actual numbers) for Singapore Changi Airport, Kuala Lumpur International Airport from Jan-2014 to Oct-2014

Chart 11 Traffic comparison (pax % growth) for Singapore Changi Airport, Kuala Lumpur International Airport from Jan-2014 to Oct-2014

The passenger numbers chart for 2014 to date shows a very similar pattern from March until June, after which KLIA's traffic falls away badly, partly as an adverse reaction to losses suffered by Malaysia Airlines, as well as to reductions in capacity growth by its main operators.

The growth chart for the same period demonstrates how the two airports have experienced declining growth that has slipped into negative territory at both of them in the last three months.

However, the steepest falls were in the early part of the year when aviation growth generally across the region was slowed by problems in the Chinese economy and a consequent reduction in Chinese tourism, domestic strife in Thailand and other reasons.

European airports under closure threat - traffic trends reveal why

The data in the CAPA Airport Traffic Base can be used to examine traffic growth at airports that are threatened by closure, and there are many of those, particularly in Europe at this time. Three examples are Blackpool, in the northwest of England, Parma in Italy and Strasbourg in France, the home of the European Parliament.

In the case of Blackpool, closure will now take place 15-Oct-2014 as no buyer can be found. The current (95%) owner has suffered losses for successive years and operations are now considered unsustainable.

In the case of Parma, which lies in Emilia-Romagna, 100km to the southeast of Milan, the airport could again close in mid October 2014, if the management fails to find a suitable partner before a shareholders' meeting that is scheduled to be held on that date.

Strasbourg's stay of execution is somewhat longer, at five years, though the underlying reasons remain the same, in this case an annual shortfall of EUR700,000 that the local Chamber of Commerce no longer feels able to underwrite, demanding that it becomes a 'self-sufficient enterprise' in that time. The problem there seems to be a lack of Germans wishing to cross the border to fly out of Strasbourg.

A chart for the period 2010 through end 2013 (chart 12) shows that Blackpool's traffic declined badly in 2010-11, stabilised in 2011-12 and then actually gained in 2012-13, owing to the consumer led recovery in the UK and the addition of services by the airport's only airline of significance, Jet2.com, a proponent and successful marketer of 'all-in' package holidays. Indeed that positive performance continued in 2014 (see chart 13), although it seems to have come too late in the day to save the airport from closure.

Chart 12 Annual Traffic Comparison (growth) for Parma Airport, Strasbourg Entzheim Airport, and Blackpool Airport from Jan-2010 to Oct-2014

In the case of Parma, the airport underwent a budget airline-inspired renaissance in the late 2000s when there was private sector interest in managing it, and was still growing in 2010. Since then it has fallen victim to an overall reduction in traffic at Italian secondary airports - to the degree that the government has on several occasions even considered forcibly curtailing their number - though it did rally in 2013.

Strasbourg's traffic growth, or lack of it, has been more even, varying from -4% to +8%. The problem there seems to be dissatisfaction at its failure to adapt to a multi-country cross border role.

Of the two airports that have shown some growth in 2013-14 (Blackpool and Parma), that growth is not consistent, as chart 13 shows. That inconsistently will inevitably be taken into account by their owner/operators at this critical time.

Chart 13 Traffic comparison (pax growth) for Parma Airport, Blackpool Airport from Jan-2014 to Oct-2014

Another function of the air traffic database is to track passenger and cargo growth where they are heavily contested, and to compare the statistics to airports in other regions that are directly or indirectly affected.

The Gulf region for example is home to three of the most aggressive carriers in the world - Emirates, Etihad Airways and Qatar Airways, and the airport infrastructure to support their expansion either is in place already or soon will be.

It is not a region entirely without its difficulties, such as air traffic management issues. But the serious aeronautical challenge for 'Middle Earth' supremacy comes from Turkey's equally aggressive THY Turkish Airlines and the new airport facilities planned for Istanbul.

Turkey is in some ways better equipped to be a global hub, being where traditionally 'east meets west' and having both a large population and extensive inbound tourism to underpin hub activities. As revealed earlier, both the Istanbul airports are in the top 25 for passenger growth in 2013 in the 15+ million passengers per annum category, with Sabiha Gokcen second and Ataturk 16th.

Ranged against these comparatively new entrants for the claim to be 'global hub' are the longer established European hubs, and in particular London Heathrow, Paris Charles de Gaulle, Amsterdam Schiphol and Frankfurt International.

A chart (14) of comparative growth at the four 'Middle Eastern' airports in the period Jan-2010 to Dec-2013 looks like this.

Chart 14 Traffic comparison (pax growth %) between Dubai International*, Abu Dhabi, Doha International** and Istanbul Ataturk*** airports, Jan-2010 to Dec-2013

*Dubai is now also served by Dubai World Central/Al Maktoum Airport

**Doha International Airport superseded by Doha Hamad Airport in Apr-2014, not affecting this chart

***Istanbul is also served by Sabiha Gocken Airport

It can be observed that all four airports have sustained consistent growth, varying from 8% to just over 20% during the period, with Istanbul Ataturk the leader during 2011-2013.

If we now look at the four European airports (chart 15), we observe a much more irregular growth pattern, with passenger losses or stable statistics at all but Frankfurt in 2010; fairly solid growth in 2011 as Europe began its first recovery from recession and then very muted growth as the Euro zone slipped back towards recession in 2012/13.

The improving UK economy in 2013 is highlighted by 7% growth at London Heathrow despite continuing claims that it operates at virtually 100% capacity, indicating that higher load factors and/or larger aircraft are the reason.

Chart 15 Traffic comparison (pax growth %) between London Heathrow, Paris Charles de Gaulle, Frankfurt International and Amsterdam Schiphol airports, Jan-2010 to Dec-2013

Hard facts behind the UK capacity debate - Heathrow the only one of four London airports to grow in 2010-2013

Finally, we will look at statistics relevant to the UK airport capacity debate, which has featured frequently in CAPA reports over the last two years.

As a result of the Interim Report by the Airports Commission in Dec-2013, further supported by announcements made in Sep-2014, there are only two airports left in the 'battle'' for additional runway capacity, both of them in the southeast of England. They are London Heathrow airport (a new runway or extension of an existing one) and London Gatwick (a new runway).

The Commission effectively excluded proposals made by, or on behalf of London Stansted, London Luton and Birmingham Airports. Manchester Airport did not make a case for further expansion.

It would appear that everything is now clear cut and neatly ordered but that may not be the case. Apart from the fact that the Liberal Democrats again voted against any new runways at their conference on 07-Oct, whichever of the two airports mentioned above 'wins,' and assuming the government accepts the recommendations, there will be countless public objections.

Meanwhile, Gatwick and Birmingham Airports have teamed up to present a joint, self-supporting case, while the prospect of 'devolved powers' from the UK for England, or for the English regions, raises the question of an altogether different socio-economic infrastructure arising that would require an equivalent transport infrastructure.

See the related report: UK air transport policy post-Scotland vote; 'devolution' could reshape previous aviation plans

Recent traffic growth trends are an important part of the equation and here are the hard facts of passenger traffic growth at the relevant airports since 2010.

The first chart (16) covers the four main London airports, all of which have passenger traffic numbers in excess of 10 million passengers pa, including what is currently (2Q and 3Q2014) the fastest growing of the main airports in the country in 2014, London Luton.

The second chart (17) covers the other airport that failed to make the cut; Birmingham, which put up a sound case and which remains convinced it has a national role to play.

Chart 16 The airports in the battle for extra capacity for southeast England. Traffic pax growth figures at London Heathrow, Gatwick, Stansted and Luton, Jan-2010 to Dec-2013

It is immediately evident that only Heathrow grew over all four years, even if minutely in 2010, supporting its claim that Heathrow "is where airlines want to fly". Gatwick Airport has rebounded since it was taken over in Dec-2009 by GIP and Stansted has rallied since it was acquired by Manchester Airports Group in Feb-2013.

The biggest turnaround was at Luton, between 2010 and 2011 (and as mentioned above it is growing rapidly in 2014 too, with an average of 11.3% passenger growth in Jun to Aug-2014.

Nevertheless, the management at Luton Airport declined to propose a place for it in the grander scheme of things, preferring a more manageable increase to 18 million passengers per annum in what is a tightly constrained operating area. Luton's' submission to the Commission was drawn up independently by a firm of architects.

Chart 17 The airports in the battle for extra airport capacity in southeast England. Traffic pax growth figures at Birmingham Airport, Jan-2010 to Dec-2013

Birmingham declined in 2010 at much the same rate as three of the London airports. It made a recovery in 2011 but not to the same degree as Heathrow, Gatwick or Luton. 2012 was a good year however, with Birmingham Airport outstripping all its London rivals and it held its own in 2013.

Interestingly, when comparing passenger traffic in 2014 (chart 18) between the two remaining airports under consideration by the Commission, Birmingham's growth has been higher, in the first four months of the year, than that of Gatwick or Heathrow. Birmingham's problem has always been one of sustaining growth that arises out of its own catchment area (which is seriously eroded by Heathrow) before it starts to claim a broader, national role, but it does appear to be doing that now.

Chart 18 Passenger traffic growth comparison between London Heathrow, Gatwick and Birmingham airports, 2012 to date

Another weakness in Birmingham's armour is exposed by cargo data for the same period. The West Midlands claims to be the most heavily invested region in the UK in terms of foreign direct investment (FDI) and local business interests have argued that a case should be made for Birmingham to become a national freight hub airport.

Chart 19, however, indicates that while Heathrow's cargo volume has remained stable in what has been a tough time for the airfreight business, and Gatwick's has fallen by up to 20%, Birmingham's collapsed from a growth figure of almost 30% to as low as -55% in just four months.

Chart 19 Comparison of cargo volume growth at Heathrow, Gatwick and Birmingham airports, 2014 to date

Of course the propensity for the road trucking of freight to Heathrow, a feature of the landscape for decades, play its part in that but Birmingham's claims need to be set in context. It is situated in the centre of England, surrounded by a very comprehensive motorway network and rail lines that could be released for greater freight use if and when the HS2 high speed passenger rail line is constructed.

Note: all data in the CAPA Airport Traffic Database can be downloaded to Excel spreadsheets for further manipulation. Also that data is available for aircraft movements.

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