The world’s busiest airports: passengers vs air traffic

2017-11-22 13:30 - Unathi Nkanjei
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Cape Town - While air travel has seen an increase in demand, low-profit margins have become a key concern for commercial airlines - with the need to reduce operational costs as well as introduce ancillary services in order to improve revenue.  

SEE: SAA confirms flight cuts and reductions on key domestic routes

Catching wind of this, has done a study that analyses the Air Traffic Movements (ATM) and the number of passengers at the world’s twenty busiest airports. 

According to the travel booking agency, the study shows that on a global level, while the number of flights per year at many of the world’s largest airports has barely decreased, the number of passengers has grown over the same period.

Dubai International airport, which was the fastest growing airport in 2016 by passenger number, carries 84 million passengers each year and fields only 418 000 flights - This is less than half that of either Atlanta or Chicago, according to

What’s even more interesting, as the graph shows, is that hubs like Dubai carry an equivalent number of passengers per hour to some of the world’s busiest airports, yet it launches far fewer individual flights.

SEE: Dubai cements 'World's busiest international airport' title with 7.2% growth

The chart also demonstrates that certain airports such as Beijing, Singapore and Hong Kong field significantly fewer flights per hour than their counterparts in other parts of the world - the United States in particular. 

Nevertheless, despite the lower number of flights, they manage to carry significantly more passengers each hour. 

Although it is not included in the graph, Airport Company South Africa's Cape Town International Airport (CTIA) has confirmed it fields a significant 5 980 ATM per month, including both flights arriving and departing. When it comes to passengers, on average the airport says it facilitates some 683 460 travellers per month - having just hit the 10 million passenger bench mark at the end of 2016.

With some 26 International, Regional and Domestic airlines operating at the airport, Deborah Francis, Airport Company South Africa (ACSA) spokesperson says the airport has an 11.2 mil passenger projection for the 2017 calendar year. 

"We are growing and that is exciting news for the region," she adds.

With that said, if the projections become a reality, CTIA would see tremendous growth compared to 2016 when it served just over 10 million passengers.

SEE: Cape Town International Airport hits 10 million passenger milestone in 2016

Take a look at the overall infographic of world's busiest airports below:

Key insights include: 

The number of flights per hour in Dubai, Hong Kong and Beijing is almost half of the total amount of flights in other airports that transport the same or less passengers such as Atlanta or Chicago.
US airports included in this ranking have the highest air traffic per year at 4,156,751 while Asian airports have 63% (2,751,600) less flights during the same time.
Rapid growth of air travel in Asia is changing the industry. Middle East–based airlines such as Emirates, Etihad Airways, and Qatar Airways are dominating growth in the long-haul market due to the unique geographic positioning. The larger planes required for long-hall flights allows these airlines to carry more passengers per flight and reduce their operational costs.
As predict by experts, we will continue to see bigger planes with more passengers in coming years. Chicago O’Hare, Paris Charles de Gaulle, Dallas International and Frankfurt airports are already following this trend and reduced the number of flights per day in 2016.
Some carriers such as Emirates and Qantas Airways have been investing in new technology to build lighter and bigger aircrafts that consume less fuel. Will this impact their future air traffic and passenger stats?

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