Civil aviation has evolved quite rapidly from just a few ex-military planes flying passengers over relatively short distances after the Second World War to a complex network of flight paths, dedicated protocols, and a growing number of regional and international airlines which is equally matched by the increasing number of passengers all over the world.
Air transportation is perhaps the most convenient medium of travel both in terms of time and safety. According to the World Bank open data, the total number of passengers transported in a year reached 3.9 billion in 2017, while the number of flight takeoffs reached 35.8 million.
Below, we have compiled 16 of the busiest airports in the world by passenger volume. The figures are provided by Airport Council International.
16. Incheon International Airport
Incheon International Airport during winter | Image Courtesy: Wikimedia
Located At: Incheon city, South Korea
Number of Passengers Handled: 68.3 million
Incheon or Seoul-Incheon International is the largest and busiest airport in the Republic of Korea. It is also one of the highly-rated airports in the world. The airport was inaugurated in 2001 and was built to replace the older Gimpo International, which is currently functioning as South Korea’s secondary airport handling mostly domestic traffic.
Among other things, the Incheon Airport authorities claim that it has one of the fastest average customs processing timings with only a 0.0001% baggage mishandling ratio. It currently has three runways and two passenger terminals.
15. Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport
Aerial view of Dallas/Fort Worth airport | Image Courtesy: Todd MacDonald/Flickr
Located At: Dallas/Fort Worth, Texas
Number of Passenger Handled: 69.1 million
Located between the two large cities of Dallas and Fort Worth, DFW is the second busiest airport in the state of Texas and the second largest in the United States by total area. The entire airport is larger than the island of Manhattan.
Dallas/Fort Worth Airport serves as a major hub for American Airlines, the world’s largest airline by revenue, fleet size, and the number of passengers carried. In 2018, it provided services to 244 destinations (182 domestic and 62 international), joining a small group of airports in the world that offers non-stop services to 200 or more destinations.
At the moment, the airport has seven runways and have five terminals with 165 gates.
14. Frankfurt Airport
Aerial view of Frankfurt airport Image Courtesy: Wikimedia
Located At: Frankfurt, Hesse
Number of Passengers Handled: 69.5 million
Frankfurt Airport is perhaps the busiest aviation hub in Germany and the fourth-busiest in Europe. The history of Frankfurt Airport can be traced all the way back to 1909 when it was built and maintained by DELAG, the world’s first airliner. Then during the Second World War, the airport was used as a military base by the Luftwaffe.
Today, Frankfurt airport has two large passenger terminals and a much smaller private terminal which is solely operated by Lufthansa to accommodate its first class passengers. In 2017, the airport offered services to almost 300 destinations in five continents.
13. Guangzhou Baiyun International Airport
Guangzhou Baiyun Airport
Located At: Guangdong province
Number of Passengers Handled: 69.7 million
Guangzhou Baiyun International is the third busiest airport in China by both passengers and cargo traffic. The airport has two terminals and three parallel runways. It serves as a primary hub of multiple airlines including China Southern and Hainan Airlines.
According to its expansion master plan, the airport will eventually have five runways and a new terminal by 2022 (preliminary). Once completed it will raise Baiyun’s passenger capacity to 80 million a year.
12. Indra Gandhi International Airport
Inside IGI Airport Terminal 3 | Image Courtesy: Wikimedia
Located At: New Delhi
Number of Passengers Handled: 69.9 million
Indira Gandhi International (IGI) is the largest and busiest airport in India and perhaps the fastest growing airport in the world. In 2016, a decade after it was opened for passenger traffic, the airport handled more than 55 million passengers which went up to 63 million at the end of 2017, a 14% annual jump. IGI airport registered a 10.2% increase (the highest among the top 20 busiest airports) in its passenger traffic in 2018.
Terminal 1 and 2 of the Indra Gandhi International airport are mostly used by domestic flights which also serve as a hub for many regional airliners. Most of the international traffic is handled by terminal 3. A new terminal 4 is currently in the planning stage. It currently has three runways, the longest being 14,534 ft.
11. Amsterdam Airport Schiphol
A Boeing 747-400 (KLM Cargo) on Taxiway Bridge at Schipol airport | Image Courtesy: Wolfgang Pehlemann/Wikimedia
Located At: Haarlemmermeer municipality, North Holland
Number of Passengers Handled: 71 million
Amsterdam Airport Schiphol is one of the oldest airports in the world which initially began operating as a military base in 1916. But shortly after the end of the First World War, it was transferred to civilian authorities and in a few years, it had become a full-fledged commercial hub.
Unlike most large airports around the globe, Schiphol only has one terminal. It is, however, split into three sections or departure halls with their concourses and piers interconnected to each other.
Furthermore, the entire airport is situated below the average sea level (a large part of the Netherlands fall below sea level). In fact, it’s one of the lowest major airports in the world.
10. Charles de Gaulle Airport
Aerial view of Charles de Gaulle Airport Image Courtesy: Fyodor Borisov
Located At: Île-de-France (“Paris Region”)
Number of Passengers Handled: 72.2 million
Charles de Gaulle Airport, covering a massive area of 32.3 square km, is currently the largest airport in France. The airport has three terminals with Terminal 2 having seven sub-terminals from 2A to 2G. On 23rd May 2004, just after its inauguration, a section of terminal 2E collapsed which resulted in the death of four foreign nationals.
The airport was named after Charles de Gaulle, a French army officer who led the Free French Forces during World War II against the Axis Powers and later became the President of France.
As of now, Charles de Gaulle is the second busiest airport in Europe in terms of passenger traffic and the busiest in cargo traffic (2017 data). Air France, the flag carrier of France, and its subsidiaries including Joon and HOP! are based here.
9. Shanghai Pudong International Airport
Pudong International Airport at night
Located At: Pudong, Shanghai
Number of Passengers Handled: 74 million
Shanghai Pudong International is the second busiest airport in China and the fifth busiest in Asia. It’s one of the two international airports serving Shanghai and its nearby areas.
The airport has two large terminals and five runways (four are operational) running parallel to each other. A third terminal and two new runways are currently under construction which will substantially increase the airport’s total passenger and cargo capacity.
Pudong International serves as a secondary hub for China’s biggest airline and flag carrier Air China. It’s a primary hub for China Eastern Airlines, China’s second-biggest airlines, and Shanghai Airlines.
8. Hong Kong International Airport
Cathay Pacific Cargo (ATC at the background) at Hong Kong International | Image Courtesy: Thomas.K/Flickr
Located At: Chek Lap Kok island, Hong Kong
Number of Passengers Handled: 74.5 million
Hong Kong International locally referred to as Chek Lap Kok airport was built to replace Hong Kong’s former, single-runway international airport. Since its opening in 1998, Honk Kong International has become an important gateway for Mainland China and other parts of Asia.
In 2017, Hong Kong International was ranked the busiest airport in the world by annual cargo traffic. It surpassed Memphis International Airport located in Tennessee, the United States to gain the first spot for the first time in 2010.
The airport has two 12,400 ft. parallel runways and two terminals, of which Terminal 1 is the world’s third-largest terminal building. Hong Kong is a hub for four passengers and a dozen of cargo airlines.
7. Heathrow Airport
Aerial view of Heathrow Airport terminal 4
Located At: Hillingdon, London
Number of Passengers Handled: 80.1 million
London Heathrow is Europe’s busiest airport by overall passenger traffic and second busiest in the world by total international passenger traffic. Heathrow is one of the six international airports located in the Greater London region.
The airport’s history can be traced back to the late 1920s when it was used by a private aircraft manufacturer. Then in the early 1940s, it served as an active base for the Royal Air-force and remained under their control until 1945. The following year, the airport was opened for civilian operations but was named London airport. It was changed to Heathrow only in 1966.
Today, the airport has a total of four active terminals (terminal 1 ceased to operate in 2015) and it serves as the primary hub of British Airways.
6. O’Hare International Airport
Chicago O’Hare International Airport Image Courtesy: Flickr
Located At: Chicago, Illinois
Number of Passengers Handled: 83.3 million
O’Hare was the first major airport planned after the First World War in the United States in order to replace Chicago’s much older Midway International Airport. It was named after Edward “Butch” O’Hare, a Medal of Honor recipient Lieutenant Commander of the U.S Navy. The airport provides non-stop flight services to more than 200 destinations across six continents including Africa
5. Tokyo International Airport
An aerial view of Tokyo Haneda Airport | Image Courtesy: Wikimedia
Located At: Ōta, Tokyo
Number of Passengers Handled: 87.1 million
Tokyo International, also known as Haneda Airport is one of the two major airports that serve the Greater Tokyo Metropolitan area, the other being Narita International Airport.
From 1978 to 2010, a vast majority of traffic handled by Haneda Airport was, in fact, domestic, but it all changed after a large, dedicated international terminal along with a new runway was opened in 2010. It serves as a primary hub for two of the largest airlines in the country; Japan Airlines and All Nippon Airways.
Japan’s civil aviation authority is encouraging the use of Haneda Airport by major airliners over Narita as part of a strategy. Between the two of them, Tokyo have the third-busiest city airport system in the world.
4. Los Angeles International Airport
LAX international check-in hall
Located At: Los Angeles
Number of Passengers Handled: 87.5 million
Los Angeles International Airport, locally known as just LAX, is located in the Westchester district of Los Angeles and currently is the world’s fourth busiest airport. It is the only airport that serves as a primary hub for four of the largest and most recognized airliners; American, Delta, Alaska, and United Airlines.
LAX is one of the four major international gateways to the United States and the most prominent in the U.S West Coast. It is also one of the busiest airports that are either a point of origin or point of destination, which means that most travelers either begin their journey from here or end here rather than using it as a layover airport.
3. Dubai International Airport
Aircraft parked at Concourse C of Dubai Airport Image Courtesy: Konstantin von Wedelstaedt/Airliner.net
Located At: Al Garhoud, Dubai
Number of Passengers Handled: 89.1 million
Dubai International is one of the only two (civil) airports that serves UAE’s capital city; Dubai. In 2017, it was ranked the world’s busiest airport by international passenger traffic and sixth-busiest by total cargo traffic.
The entire airport is extended over 1,250 ha. or 3,100 acres of land and has three terminals. Terminal 1 and 2, each, have an annual capacity of more than 10 million passengers. Terminal 3, on the other hand, can handle around 65-70 million passengers a year. And yes, Dubai International’s Terminal 3 is the largest airport terminal in the world.
2. Beijing Capital International Airport
Beijing Capital International Airport Image Courtesy: Wikimedia
Located At: Chaoyang–Shunyi District, Beijing
Number of Passengers Handled: 100.9 million
Beijing Capital International is Asia’s busiest airport both in air traffic and total passenger movement. It is currently the only international airport serving Beijing, the second one is under construction.
The airport was initially established in 1958 only as a small, single terminal building. Today, however, it consists of three terminals (excluding the original one). Terminal 1, which only handles domestic flights, went operational in 1958. The second and third terminal was opened in 1999 and 2004 respectively.
Selected gates in both Terminal 2 and 3 are capable of handling extremely large aircraft including Airbus A380. Furthermore, Beijing Capital’s Terminal 3 is currently the second-largest airport terminal in the world and the sixth-largest building in the world by total floor area.
1. Hartsfield–Jackson Atlanta International
Hartsfield-Jackson Airport Terminal C Image Courtesy: Flickr
Located at: Atlanta, Georgia
Number of Passengers Handled: 107.3 million
Atlanta’s principal airport, Hartsfield-Jackson International is perhaps the busiest airport in the world and has maintained this position since the turn of the century. It has five parallel runways (the longest being 12,000 ft.) and a total of 192 gates. The entire airport is established over 1,902 hectares (19 square kilometers) of land.
In 2017, according to the United States Department of Transportation, Hartsfield-Jackson ranked seventh in twenty busiest U.S airports by international passenger traffic. That year, it served roughly over 104 million passengers in total.
The airport is the primary hub for Delta Airlines, the world’s second-largest airline, and a small-scale hub or focus city for other popular but smaller airlines such as Southwest and Frontier.