Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (ATL) held onto its title of busiest airport in the world in 2018, with passenger numbers exceeding 107 million, a 3.3 percent increase, according to preliminary traffic figures released by Airports Council International. Beijing Capital International Airport (PEK) continued to gain on ATL, however, posting a passenger number increase of 5.4 percent to just under 101 million.

The only other North American airport in the top five was Los Angeles International Airport (LAX), which moved up a notch to number four last year with 87.5 million passengers, a 3.5 percent increase. After PEK, Dubai International Airport (DBX) was third at 89.1 million passengers and Tokyo’s Haneda Airport (HND) ranked fifth at 87.1 million passengers.

ACI said global traffic remained resilient in 2018 and is estimated to have reached 8.8 billion, growing by an estimated 6 percent over the previous year. This increase is above the 4.3 percent compound annual growth rate for passenger traffic from 2007 to 2017.

Global air cargo advanced 3.2 percent in 2018, a slowdown from 2017. ACI noted that the lower growth rate “comes against a backdrop of global trade tension between the United States and several of its closest trade partners.”

20 Busiest

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.

Total air cargo volume at the 20 busiest airports – representing 42 percent of all global air cargo volumes – grew a modest 1.3% percent 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 percent in 2017. Hong Kong International Airport (HKG) remains the largest air cargo airport, followed by Memphis International Airport (MEM).

“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,” Gittens added. “Indeed, ACI’s global medium-term forecasts reveal growth in demand for air services between 2018 to 2023 will grow by almost 30 percent 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,” she continued. “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.”