Loading

Beijing briefly assumes title of world’s largest airport as Spring Festival traffic soars

Beijing Capital International Airport, the second busiest airport in 2011, has overtaken the world’s busiest airport by total passenger movements, Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, based on capacity (seats) data for the second week of Jan-2012, driven by increased traffic over the Spring Festival travel season, which commenced on 08-Jan-2012. CAAC has forecast a 7% year-on-year increase in passenger numbers to 34.9 million during the 40-day peak travel period, with domestic Chinese carriers' 8000 flights and capacity to transport one million passengers per day. However, Atlanta will regain its position once the Spring Festival traffic spike subsides, and will be the largest airport by passenger traffic in Jan-2012 as a whole. Beijing's temporary hold on the number one spot is a reminder that the title this year will return, and for the long term.

Beijing grows as Atlanta shrinks

While capacity is being added through Beijing, the situation is slightly different in Atlanta. Southwest's acquisition of AirTran will see a 10-19% reduction in AirTran operations from Atlanta later this year. Southwest has stated it expects to keep 185-200 of AirTran's 220 daily services (as operated at the time of the buyout by Southwest) at Atlanta, with Southwest CCO Bob Jordan and AirTran president Bob Jordan noting that some routes that connect through Atlanta "really make sense to serve nonstop, over Atlanta, and avoid the connection." Meanwhile, Atlanta-based Delta plans to reduce capacity by up to 3% in 2012, following an up to 5% capacity reduction in 4Q2011.

World’s 30 largest airports by total system capacity (seats): 09-Jan-2012 to 15-Jan-2012

Rank

Airport

Total seats

1

Beijing Capital International Airport

1,988,818

2

Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport

1,978,673

3

Tokyo Haneda Airport

1,767,559

4

London Heathrow Airport

1,718,248

5

Chicago O'Hare International Airport

1,444,319

6

Bangkok Suvarnabhumi International

1,427,382

7

Dubai International Airport

1,410,341

8

Los Angeles International Airport

1,385,334

9

Paris Charles De Gaulle Airport

1,378,427

10

Frankfurt Airport

1,371,093

11

Hong Kong International Airport

1,370,768

12

Singapore Changi Airport

1,305,684

13

Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport

1,302,040

14

Guangzhou Baiyun Airport

1,187,323

15

Jakarta Soekarno-Hatta International Airport

1,176,928

16

Shanghai Pudong Airport

1,132,054

17

Madrid Barajas Airport

1,065,935

18

Denver International Airport

1,065,648

19

Istanbul Ataturk Airport

1,013,092

20

Kuala Lumpur International Airport

1,008,254

21

New York John F Kennedy International Airport

998,029

22

Amsterdam Airport Schiphol

985,407

23

Delhi Indira Gandhi International Airport

983,007

24

Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport

977,010

25

Charlotte Douglas Airport

966,590

26

Miami International Airport

946,897

27

Seoul Incheon International Airport

919,401

28

San Francisco International Airport

908,800

29

Sydney Kingsford Smith Airport

900,737

30

Munich Airport

882,654

Only a decade ago, Beijing Capital did not even rate among the world’s top 30 airports, a list that Atlanta has headed since 1998, when it overtook Chicago O’Hare, which was the world's dominant airport since 1961, according to the airport. Beijing first appeared as one of the world’s 30 largest airports in 2004 when 43% growth from the previous year saw it assume the title of 20th largest airport.

Eight Asia-Pacific carriers among world’s 15 largest airports

In other developments reflecting the global shift in passenger growth, Tokyo Haneda has also overtaken London Heathrow as the world’s third largest airport by capacity in the current week.

Based on current capacity data, eight of the world’s 15 largest airports are in the Asia/Middle East region and 13 of the world’s 30 largest airports are in the region, compared to two, namely Tokyo Haneda (sixth with 65.4 million annual passengers) and Seoul (14th with 36.7 million passengers), in 2000. Hong Kong (22nd with 32.8 million passengers), Bangkok Suvarnabhumi (26th with 29.6 million) and Singapore Changi (28th with 28.6 million passengers) also ranked in the top 30 airports in 2000, according to ACI World data, for a total of five Asia-Pacific airports in the Top 30 in 2000.

Atlanta ended the year as world’s largest airport – likely for last time

While an examination of capacity and frequency trends over the past decade highlight a stable upwards trend for Beijing and a weakening trend for Atlanta, Atlanta still ended 2011 as the world’s largest airport, for the 14th consecutive year, despite a noticeable decline in monthly seat capacity from a peak in Jan-2005. Over this time, seat capacity at Atlanta has weakened 9.3% compared to growth of 78.9% at Beijing.

Atlanta Hartsfield hub capacity (seats): Jan-2003 to Jan-2012

Beijing Capital hub capacity (seats): Jan-2003 to Jan-2012

Atlanta remains largest airport in Jan-2012

For Jan-2012, Atlanta also remains the largest airport by capacity based on forward capacity data for Jan-2012, based on OAG data, with 8.8 million monthly seats, compared to 8.4 million at Beijing. This means that at present, Atlanta has around 345,900 more weekly seats than its Chinese counterpart, equating to around a 4% difference in seats, despite Beijing Capital reporting stronger year-on-year growth rates in recent months. Atlanta is also operating around 62% more frequencies in Jan-2012 than Beijing.

Beijing Capital hub frequency (seats): Jan-2003 to Jan-2012

Atlanta Hartsfield hub frequency: Jan-2003 to Jan-2012

Beijing planning for continued growth

It is not a question of if, but when Beijing will overtake Atlanta as the world's largest airport on a monthly basis in 2012. And once it does, it is likely Beijing will hold onto its position as the world's largest airport for some time, like its predecessors in Atlanta and Chicago O'Hare have done. Beijing is planning for this growth, with Beijing building fresh airport capacity that will see it become the world's largest aviation hub, leaving London – currently the world's busiest system of airports – and even ambitious Dubai in its wake. Beijing's new airport at Daxing, south of the city, could have up to nine runways and ultimate capacity to handle around 370,000 passengers per day, or a staggering 135 million passengers p/a. This would increase capacity at Beijing area airports to around 220 million p/a – almost a quarter of a billion passengers.

See related article: Beijing to overtake London as world’s largest aviation hub. Massive new airport planned