Passenger traffic remains resilient but cargo hubs see volume growth weaken
India becomes world’s third largest aviation market for passenger traffic
London, 13 March, 2019 – During the the 11th Annual Airport Economics & Finance Conference & Exhibition in London, Airports Council International (ACI) World published its preliminary world airport traffic rankings covering passenger traffic, cargo volumes, and aircraft movements
ACI has found that passenger traffic remained resilient in 2018 and is estimated to have reached 8.8 billion, growing by an estimated 6% as compared to the previous year. This increase is above the 4.3% compound annual growth rate for passenger traffic from 2007 to 2017.
The air cargo market did not fare as well as passenger traffic with a year-end growth figure of 3.2%. This is in contrast to a much stronger year of growth in 2017 but comes against a backdrop of global trade tension between the United States and several of its closest trade partners.
Passenger traffic at the world’s 20 busiest airports – which represent 17% of all global passenger traffic – grew by 4.7% in 2018 as more than 1.5 billion passengers used these airports. Of these:
- Atlanta-Hartsfield-Jackson Airport kept the top place and handled over 107 million passengers
- Beijing Airport surpassed the 100 million passengers mark in 2018, growing by 5.4% and holding onto second spot.
- Dubai Airport remained in third position as, after years of double-digit percentage traffic growth, it grew by 1%.
Total air cargo volume at the 20 busiest airports – representing 42% of all global air cargo volumes – grew a modest 1.3% as they handled a combined 51 million metric tonnes of cargo. This comes after a year where global cargo volumes rose markedly by 7.7% in 2017. Of these:
- Hong Kong Airport remains the largest air cargo centre, handling more than 5 million metric tonnes of cargo in 2018 and its volume growing 1.4% against 2017
- Memphis Airport was in second place with growth of 3.1%, and
- Shanghai Airport was third, with a decline in cargo volumes in 2018 of -1.5%. Shanghai grew by 11.2% in 2017 but this decline shows that demand has softened.
The preliminary results for the top 20 busiest airports by total passenger traffic and the top 20 busiest air cargo airports are available to download.
The top 20 airports for aircraft movements grew by 2.4% in 2018. Chicago O’Hare Airport has surpassed Atlanta-Hartsfield-Jackson Airport to become the busiest airport in the world for aircraft movements. Both airports experienced slight declines in 2017 but have since recorded growth of 4.2% and 1.8% respectively.
“It is heartening to see that global passenger traffic growth has remained resilient in the face of an increasingly tense and challenging geopolitical climate,” ACI World Director General Angela Gittens said. “Aviation is strongly linked to the global economy and to local development, however, and the protectionist rhetoric that has swept several Western countries will continue to restrain growth in the efficient flow of people, goods and services.
“With the cost of travel decreasing in many markets, and a burgeoning middle class growing in emerging markets, passenger traffic growth has remained irrepressible. Indeed, ACI’s global medium-term forecasts reveal growth in demand for air services between 2018 to 2023 will grow by almost 30%. This means many national governments face the predicament of demand outstripping available airport infrastructure.
“For cargo, the picture was not as good against a backdrop of global trade tension. The ongoing trade war between the United States and several of its closest trade partners was a shock for the industry and global supply chains.”
In other significant findings, India became the world’s third-largest aviation market in terms of passenger throughput, behind the U.S. and China in 2018. India’s move towards a more liberalized aviation market and the nation’s strengthening economic fundamentals have helped it become one of the fastest-growing markets with its traffic growing rapidly in a relatively short time.
Additionally, despite signs of weakness in the cargo market, a number of airports stand out with Doha, Qatar’s main hub, continuing to be one of the fastest-growing airports in the world for air cargo throughput and is also among the busiest. It moved from 16th to 11th in the rankings.
Notes for editors
- 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 2019, ACI serves 646 members, operating 1,960 airports in 176 countries.
- Please note that all figures and percentages are extrapolations based on summed monthly data submissions by the world’s major commercial airports (around 1,200 airports). The final confirmed report will be published later in 2019 and will include more than 2,000 airports. Figures are, therefore, subject to variation.
- Download an infographic of the preliminary top 20 results here.
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