Press Releases

The bigger get bigger while smaller airports suffer greatest loss

Montréal, 6 October 2017 – Airports Council International (ACI) has released the latest edition of the World Airport Traffic Report. ACI’s flagship publication, representing over 2,400 airports in 175 countries worldwide, reveals that the world’s mega-hubs achieved passenger traffic growth of 5.5% year over year in 2016.

There were 46 airports with over 40 million passengers per annum in 2016 as compared to 18 airports in 2006. After years of consolidation and capacity discipline on the part of many airlines, the mature markets such as Europe and North America experienced an important resurgence in air transport demand, particularly at many of its large hubs.

On the other hand, a relatively higher proportion of smaller airports with fewer than 1 million passengers in 2006 experienced a decline in passenger traffic by 2016 compared with other size categories. This proportion tends to decrease inversely as airports increase in size. By 2016, 27.4% of airports that had fewer than 1 million passengers per annum in 2006 experienced a loss in traffic over that period.

“Despite the net gains achieved in both traffic volumes and operational efficiency, especially at hubs in major city markets across the globe, the downside of airline capacity shifts is that a proportion of smaller regional airports have either stagnated or experienced a reduction in nonstop destinations between cities,” said Angela Gittens, Director General, ACI World. “It is important to highlight that the reason smaller airports remain in operation hinges on the fact that they contribute to the local, social and economic development of their surrounding communities. Strategies to ensure their sustainability are important if we are to have a robust aviation system.”

In 2016, nine airports graduated to the 40 mppa category.

  • Barcelona (BCN, +11.2% or +4.4 million passengers)
  • Taipei (TPE, +9.9% or +3.8 million passengers)
  • Kunming (KMG, +11.9% or +4.5 million passengers)
  • Sydney (SYD, +5.2% or +2.1 million passengers)
  • Shenzhen (SZX, +5.7% or +2.2 million passengers)
  • Orlando (MCO, +8% or +3.1 million passengers)
  • Mexico (MEX, +7.7% or +3.1 million passengers)
  • Newark (EWR, +8.2% or +3.1 million passengers)
  • Shanghai (SHA, +3.5% or 1.4 million passengers)

ACI’s forthcoming Policy Brief: Airport networks and the sustainability of small airports presents business models and policy recommendations that facilitate the sustainability of smaller airports as part of a broader network of airports under the umbrella of a single airport operator.

Key statistics in brief

Passenger traffic:

  • Worldwide airport passenger numbers increased 6.5% in 2016 to almost 7.7 billion, registering increases in all regions except Africa, which had a slight decrease of 0.4% due to the region’s 1.7% decrease in international passenger.
  • During 2016, the highest number of passengers traveled through airports in the Asia-Pacific region:
  1. Asia-Pacific (2.73 billion, up 10.6% over 2015)
  2. Europe (2.04 billion, up 5.2% over 2015)
  3. North America (1.79 billion, up 3.8% over 2015)
  4. Latin America-Caribbean (588 million, up 1.2% over 2015)
  5. Middle East (369 million, up 9.4% over 2015)
  6. Africa (182 million, down 0.4% over 2015)
  • Atlanta (ATL) remains the busiest airport on the globe with 104 million passengers in 2016. Traffic was up 5% over 2015 at Beijing (PEK) with 94 million passengers, maintaining second in world ranking. Third ranked airport, Dubai (DXB), also stayed in the same position as 2015 with 84 million passengers despite an impressive 7.2% growth throughout the year.
  • The world’s fastest-growing airports with over 15 million passengers are:
  1. Bangalore (BLR) (22.2 million, up 22.5% over 2015)
  2. Hoh Chi Minh (SGN) (32.5 million, up 22.4% over 2015)
  3. New Delhi (DEL) (55.6 million, up 21% over 2015)
  • Dubai (DXB) is still the third busiest airport in the world in overall passenger traffic, and has widened its leading position as the world’s busiest in terms of international passenger traffic ahead of London-Heathrow (LHR) throughout 2016.
  • Shanghai (PVG) remains one of the fastest growing airports among the world’s top 20 airports for passenger traffic, moving from 13th to 9th place and growing 9.8%.  Los Angeles (LAX) also had a high growth rate of 8%, moving from 7th to 4th rank in terms of total passenger traffic in 2016.
  • The world’s busiest airports in international passenger traffic are:
  1. Dubai (DXB) (83.1 million, up 7.3% over 2015)
  2. London-Heathrow (LHR) (71 million, up 1.7% over 2015)
  3. Hong Kong (HKG) (70.1 million, up 3% over 2015)
  • The world’s busiest airports in domestic passenger traffic are:
  1. Atlanta (ATL) (92.7 million, up 2.7% over 2015)
  2. Beijing (PEK) (73.8 million, up 3.4% over 2015)
  3. Chicago (ORD) (66.1 million, up 0.4% over 2015)

Air cargo traffic:

  • Worldwide airport cargo increased 4% in 2016 to 110 million metric tonnes, with mixed levels of growth across all six regions.
  • Hong Kong (HKG) and Memphis (MEM) take the first and second ranks respectively for the busiest air cargo airports with 4.6 and 4.3 million metric tonnes in 2016.
  • Airports in the Asia-Pacific region handled the largest amount of air cargo during 2016:
    • Asia-Pacific (43.4 million metric tonnes, up 5.4% over 2015)
    • North America (30.8 million metric tonnes, up 2.4% over 2015)
    • Europe (20.1 million metric tonnes, up 5% over 2015)
    • Middle East (8.8 million metric tonnes, up 2.7% over 2015)
    • Latin America-Caribbean (5.1 million metric tonnes, up 0.9% over 2015)
    • Africa (2.1 million metric tonnes, up 1.3% over 2015)
  • The world’s fastest-growing airports handling over 250,000 metric tonnes of air cargo during 2016 are:
  1. Moscow (SVO) (256 thousand metric tonnes, up 28.8% over 2015)
  2. Doha (DOH) (1.6 million metric tonnes, up 20.8% over 2015)
  3. Hanoi (HAN) (566 thousand metric tonnes, up 18.2% over 2015)
  • The world’s busiest airports in international freight traffic are:
  1. Hong Kong (HKG) (4.52 million metric tonnes, up 3.2% over 2015)
  2. Incheon (ICN) (2.60 million metric tonnes, up 4.5% over 2015)
  3. Dubai (DXB) (2.59 million metric tonnes, up 3.4% over 2015)
  • The world’s busiest airports in domestic freight traffic are:
  1. Memphis (MEM) (3.80 million metric tonnes, down 6.1% over 2015)
  2. Louisville (SDF) (1.91 million metric tonnes, up 3.3% over 2015)
  3. Beijing (PEK) (1.14 million metric tonnes, down 1.2% over 2015)

Aircraft movements:

  • Worldwide aircraft movements increased 2.7% in 2016 to 91.8 million, with mixed levels of growth across all six regions.
  • Atlanta (ATL) retained its position as the busiest airport in terms of aircraft movements, followed by Chicago (ORD) and Los Angeles (LAX).
  • Airports in the North American region recorded the highest number of movements in 2016:
  1. North America (31.2 million, up 1.6% over 2015)
  2. Europe (23.7 million, up 2.1% over 2015)
  3. Asia-Pacific (22.9 million, up 7.5% over 2015)
  4. Latin America-Caribbean (8 million, down 4.1% over 2015)
  5. Africa (3 million, down 1.4% over 2015)
  6. Middle East (2.9 million, up 7.5% over 2015)
  • Top 3 contributors to global aircraft movement growth by country share:
  1. China (People’s Republic of China) (660 thousand increase in movements representing a share of 27.6% of the global increase)
  2. United States (510 thousand increase in movements representing a share of 21.3% of the global increase)
  3. India (257 thousand increase in movements representing a share of 10.8% of the global increase)
Notes for editors
1.Airports Council International (ACI), the trade association of the world’s airports, was founded in 1991 with the objective of fostering cooperation among its member airports and other partners in world aviation, including the International Civil Aviation Organization, the International Air Transport Association and the Civil Air Navigation Services Organization. In representing the best interests of airports during key phases of policy development, ACI makes a significant contribution toward ensuring a global air transport system that is safe, secure, efficient and environmentally sustainable. As of January 2017, ACI serves 623 members operating 1,940 airports in 176 countries.

2. Learn more on, and/or order the ACI World Airport Traffic Report. With comprehensive data coverage for over 2,400 airports in 175 countries worldwide, ACI’s flagship publication remains the authoritative source and industry reference for the latest airport traffic trends, rankings and data rankings on air transport demand.

3.Download the latest WATR infographic.

4. Download the PDF version of this media release

Media contact
Sabrina Guerrieri 
Manager, Communications 
ACI World 
Telephone: +1 514 373 1223 
Anita Berthier 
Manager, External Relations and Special Events   
ACI World   
Telephone: +1 514 373 1254   
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