Airports tell a story

kuwait international
kuwait international
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Airports Council International, the association of the world’s airports, released a range of monthly statistics that track airport performance according to a variety of measures.

Airports Council International, the association of the world’s airports, released a range of monthly statistics that track airport performance according to a variety of measures. The year-to-date numbers are now posted for the first 4 months of 2012 – through April – and they reveal some interesting trends.

Looking first at the behemoths of the aviation world, there are few surprises. The biggies in the top five jostle a bit for position, but for now, Atlanta remains on top.

Year to date (ACI rankings through April)

– Atlanta – Overall Rank: 1, 5.1 percent growth
– Beijing – Overall Rank: 2, 4.6 percent growth
– London – Overall Rank: 3, 3.2 percent growth
– Chicago – Overall Rank: 4, 3.9 percent growth
– Tokyo, Haneda – Overall Rank: 5, 11.1 percent growth

However, what is interesting is the very healthy rate of growth displayed by Tokyo’s Haneda. Thus far in 2012, it lags Chicago’s O’Hare by only 106,000 passengers, and with a growth rate nearly triple that of ORD, a continued good performance could drop Chicago to 5th place. Depending on the state of the European economy and the effect of the APD on traffic to the UK, HND may have a shot at unseating Heathrow if it continues to grow apace. And if the Japanese government were to loosen its tight strictures on intercontinental flights, even more rapid growth would likely result.

But who has the growth spurt?

However, a different situation is shown when we look at the airports with the highest growth rates. While perhaps not yet a threat to the big 5 in the first chart, the airports in this grid reflect the ongoing traffic shifts that have been underway for some time.

Year to date (ACI rankings through April)

– Jakarta – Overall Rank: 11, 21.4 percent growth
– Istanbul – Overall Rank: 28, 20.4 percent growth
– Bangkok – Overall Rank: 7, 14 percent growth
– Dubai – Overall Rank: 9, 13.9 percent growth
– Singapore – Overall Rank: 14, 12.9 percent growth

Jakarta, capital city of one of the world’s most populous nations, leads the list and the island nation, and with no other option for timely interisland travel, will surely continue to rank high on this list. Record aircraft orders indicate that more and more of Indonesia’s citizens will take to the air. The counterweights include a sketchy history of regulation and safety, as well as an aviation infrastructure that may struggle to keep up with fleet growth.

Istanbul, fueled by the steady and impressive growth of its home carrier, Turkish Airlines, is also on the march. Turkish’s CEO, Temel Kotil, announced to IATA that he foresaw his airline as eventually being the world’s largest in terms of network points, and the carrier is now number 7 and climbing. However, the current site of Ataturk Airport is constrained, and if IST is to become the powerhouse that he envisions, a new airport is required.

Bangkok is currently the airport served by the largest number of airlines anywhere on the globe, and the rush to include BKK in every network has pushed the airport authority to begin work on a 3rd runway at Suvarnabhumi, as well as transferring some service back to Don Muang.

No surprise about Dubai, home to the carrier that will operate most of the globe’s A380 fleet. But the continued strong growth at Changi in Singapore shows that it is not, at least as yet, being trounced by the Gulf carriers and their bypass networks.

And the new mega-hubs?

Finally, a quick look at airports and their standings as international gateways. Here again, there are some known trends that are substantiated by the numbers.

Year to date (ACI rankings through April)

– Istanbul – Overall Rank: 16, 24.8 percent growth
– Doha – Overall Rank: 20, 22.8 percent growth
– Taipei – Overall Rank: 14, 16.5 percent growth
– Tokyo, Narita – Overall Rank: 10, 16.4 percent growth
– Dubai – Overall Rank: 2, 14.4 percent growth

By removing domestic numbers, we can look at the airports that are pushing to be the new dominant players as global hubs. It is here that we see the shift to Turkey and the Gulf, as airlines from those regions continue to strive to be mega-hubs, connecting everywhere to everywhere else with a single stop. Already occupying second place in terms of international traffic, Dubai has no domestic flights and shows its drive to be number one, taking that position from London.

Doha, too, is on the rise, but based on aircraft orders by Qatar Airways, has no intention of besting Emirates’ Dubai stronghold. Of special interest here is the absence of any Chinese carrier. In fact, in the period under consideration, only one Chinese airport, Shanghai’s Pudong, appears on the top 30 list and with a growth rate of but 5.9 percent. Meanwhile, Changi and Seoul’s Incheon both post double-digit international growth, indicating that much of the burgeoning international traffic to and from China may actually be transiting other Asian hubs and that the Chinese airports are growing primarily through domestic passengers. And Narita, despite the recent focus on Haneda, is holding its own.


In terms of total traffic, Beijing still has a substantial gap between itself and Atlanta, and Atlanta thus far in 2012 has a higher rate of growth on a bigger number: top spot insured for another year.

However, in terms of international traffic status, the emergence of Dubai as top dog is just a matter of time – and perhaps the delivery of another batch of A380s. Istanbul is in the longer-term race but will be unlikely to sustain its growth rate at the present site. A new airport is rumored to be in the works, and at that point, the race to the top may resume.

The shifting and shuffling between the world’s airports is just one more manifestation of the greater changes evident in the industry. Stay tuned.

About the author


Editor in chief for eTurboNew is Linda Hohnholz. She is based in the eTN HQ in Honolulu, Hawaii.