It’s estimated that there are over forty thousand airports in the world. Some are small with local significance, while others are international hubs connecting passengers from different continents. Most of us are only temporary visitors in wait for a flight, so it’s hard to wrap your head around the actual scale of major airports.
Luckily, the busiest airports in the world are tracking most of the data needed to measure how active they are. Airports Council International (ACI) is an organization aiming to standardize industry standards and has made a list top ten airports. But how does it make such a list?
How to Measure an Airport?
There are many ways to measure the size of an airport. For example, The King Fahd International Airport in Saudi Arabia takes the most space, with around 300 square miles. It’s almost the size of the whole city of New York.
While this number is impressive, it doesn’t tell us much about how busy the airport is. Many smaller airports are experiencing much more aircraft movements.
Aircraft operation in the airport is measured as a takeoff and a landing. The year 2022 saw close to 89 million such movements globally. While this number is important, it alone doesn’t tell us much about the busy airport as some planes fly half-empty.
It is standard to measure the loaded and unloaded freight and mail as planes cargo. The year 2021 was a record-breaking for air transportation as more than 120 million metric tonnes were transported via planes. Below is a list of the busiest airports in terms of cargo volume.
- Hong Kong International Airport, HK (HKG)
The Hong Kong airport has 4 199 196 metric tonnes of cargo. Its success lies in its geographical location, being a gate for many shipments from mainland China to the rest of the world. Unsurprisingly, the Hong Kong seaport is also one of the busiest in the world for the same reason.
- Memphis International Airport, US (MEM)
With 4 042 679 metric tonnes of cargo in 2022, Memphis airport is the largest point of arrival for many foreign goods to the US. The airport is also called FedEx Superhub as most of its cargo comes from this one company.
- Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport, US (ANC)
Named after perhaps the most famous politician from Alaska, Ted Stevens Airport is not only one of the busiest airports in terms of cargo shipments (3 461 603 metric tonnes in 2022) but also the northernmost airport on our list.
- Shanghai Pudong International Airport, CN (PVG)
The Shanghai airport is not that far behind from Anchorage airport, with 3 117 216 metric tonnes of cargo in 2022 alone. However, unlike the airport in Alaska, the Shanghai airport also serves a significant number of passengers each year.
- Louisville Muhammad Ali International Airport, US (SDF)
While the Louisville airport has no international passenger flights, it is the point of entry for 3 067 234 metric tonnes of cargo each year. Not having many passengers gives Louisville Airport an edge over competing terminals.
- Seoul–Incheon International Airport, KR (ICN)
Incheon Airport is the most important airfield in South Korea. It is widely known as one of the cleanest airports in the world, while still passing 2 945 855 metric tonnes of cargo per year. Such a good organization is one of the main reasons for its success.
- Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport, TW (TPE)
Taiwan’s airport took care of 2 538 768 metric tonnes of cargo in 2022, most of which goes to service the capital city of Taipei. Interestingly, it is not the only major airport for this city, which allows it to function more efficiently but lowers its place in our list.
- Miami International Airport FL, US (MIA)
Historically known as Wilcox Field, the Miami airport services around two and a half million metric tonnes of cargo each year. It’s an impressive feat, considering that the airport is also the 10th busiest airport in the US in terms of passengers.
- Los Angeles International Airport CA, US (LAX)
Los Angeles Airport takes care of a similar amount of cargo as its Miami counterpart. However, this airport is also a much larger point for connected and international flights, which makes it the second busiest airport in the US.
- Tokyo Haneda International Airport, JP (NRT)
For a long time, this Tokyo Airport was the main terminal for cargo and passenger flights to this city. But in recent decades, the Japanese government has promoted the use of Narita International Airport, which significantly lowered the amount of cargo the Haneda Airport receives.
The number of people that have boarded and deplaned at an airport is considered passenger traffic. However, unlike cargo, it’s usual to count international and local passenger traffic separately.
The reason is that the number of local passengers alone doesn’t show us a realistic picture of how global traffic moves. Many local flights would be redundant or impossible without international ones. Besides, US airports would top the list as flying is the most popular mode of transportation there.
That is why we must also mention the busiest airports in terms of international passengers.
- Dubai International Airport, AE (DXB) – 66 million passengers in 2022
- London, GB (LHR) – 58 million passengers in 2022
- Amsterdam, NL (AMS) – 52 million passengers in 2022
- Paris, FR (CDG) – 51 million passengers in 2022
- Istanbul, TR (IST) – 48 million passengers in 2022
- Frankfurt, DE (FRA) – 44 million passengers in 2022
- Madrid, ES (MAD) – 36 million passengers in 2022
- Doha, QA (DOH) – 35 million passengers in 2022
- Singapore, SG (SIN) – 31 million passengers in 2022
- London, GB (LGW) – 30 million passengers in 2022
Ranking the busiest airports in the world is no easy feat, as there are many different aspects to account for. Looking into the cargo volume and international passenger traffic gives a rough estimate that the busiest airports are located in the United States.