The ability to board a flight and fly halfway around the world in under 24 hours is commonplace, now regarded as no more amazing than a short flight lasting just a few minutes.
Up to 100,000 flights, including passenger, cargo and trade operations, criss-cross the globe on a day-to-day basis. Air travel has become second nature when it comes to getting from A to B.
But none of this would be possible without one thing: airports. Working with airlines, regulators, and other aviation-related service providers, airports are a key logistical chess piece in the global aviation ecosystem.
Over time, ‘airport hubs’ have formed as various aspects of air travel, such as passenger traffic and cargo volumes, gravitated to geographically attractive locations. However, in a post-pandemic environment – post-2019 – it appears that some airports have seized the opportunity to disrupt the world airport order.
Here, AeroTime looks at the top 10 busiest airports in the world by 2021 passenger numbers. Data for passenger numbers was sourced from Airports Council International’s – Top 10 Busiest Airports In The World Revealed
10. Harry Reid International Airport (LAS/KLAS) located in Las Vegas, Nevada, USA
LAS was built in 1942 and commenced airline flights in 1948. The airport is located five miles south of downtown Las Vegas. It has four runways, with the largest more than 14,000 feet in length. The top airline flying into LAS is Southwest Airlines (LUV), with Spirit and Frontier Airlines as second and third, respectively. Total passenger numbers for LAS in 2021 were 39,754,366, and there has been a 78.6% increase since 2020.
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9. Chengdu Shuangliu International Airport (CTU/ZUUU) in Sichuan province, the People’s Republic of China
This comes in at number nine. Out of all the airports on the list, only two are outside of the US. CTU is located 10 miles southwest of the city center of Chengdu and serves as an important aviation hub for western China. The airport was initially an auxiliary air force base that opened in 1938 during World War Two and has two parallel runways, both 11,811 feet long. The total passenger numbers for CTU in 2021 was 40,117,496. Passenger numbers have dropped 1.5% from 2020.
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8. Guangzhou Baiyun International Airport (CAN/ZGGG) in Guangzhou, Guangdong province, the People’s Republic of China
This is the second airport outside of the US on the list. It is located in the southern part of China. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it was ranked number one in terms of passenger numbers, with 43.8 million passengers in 2020. Guangzhou Baiyun International Airport initially began as Baiyun Airport in 1932 and was closed in 2004 for the new international airport and took on the same name. The airport is 17 miles north of downtown Guangzhou and, in 2021 received 40,259,401 passengers, with numbers falling by 8% since 2020.
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7. Orlando International Airport (MCO/KMCO), Florida, US
This airport is located six miles southeast of downtown Orlando, Florida. Like many other airports, this airport started off as a military airfield in 1942. Civilian air traffic activity began in the early 1960s, and it operated as a joint civil-military airport until 1975, when the air force discontinued operations. MCO has four large runways, almost all parallel to each other. The longest runway is 12,005 feet. Total passenger numbers in 2021 were 40,351,068, with an increase of 86.7% since 2020.
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6. Charlotte Douglas International Airport (CLT/KCLT), Charlotte, North Carolina, US
Located six miles west of Charlotte’s city center in North Carolina, this airport is available for military use in addition to commercial use. Charlotte airport initially commenced operations in 1936, with Eastern Airlines providing passenger service in 1937. Throughout the US’s commercial aviation history, CLT has served as a major hub for many airlines. It has four runways, with the largest being 10,000 feet. There are plans to build another runway as well as terminal expansion. Total passenger numbers in 2021 were 43,302,230, with a 59.2% increase from 2020.
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5. Los Angeles International Airport (LAX/KLAX), Los Angeles, California, US
The vast LAX airport is 18 miles southwest of downtown Los Angeles and covers 3,500 acres of land. The airport opened in 1928 and was once a field for farming wheat and barley. The current layout for terminals was established in the late 1950s. Up until then, there wasn’t much traffic. However, during wartime, there was frequent military traffic. Passenger traffic didn’t grow until post-war. LAX has four runways, and the longest is 12,923 feet. Passenger numbers for 2021 were 48,007,284, with a 66.8% increase from 2020.
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4. Chicago O’Hare International Airport (ORD/KORD), Chicago, Illinois, US
Typically referred to as O’Hare airport, it is roughly 17 miles northwest of Chicago’s business district. ORD has non-stop flights to more than 200 destinations in all continents. The airport was named after the US Navy’s first Medal of Honor recipient for World War Two, Edward ‘Butch’ O’Hare. ORD initially began as a manufacturing plant for Douglas C-54 Skymasters during World War Two and was named Orchard Field. In 1949, the airport was renamed after O’Hare and scheduled passenger services didn’t begin until 1955. O’Hare has the most runways on the list, with eight in total, the longest being 13,000 feet. Total passenger numbers for 2021 were 54,020,399 with a 75.1% increase from 2020.
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3. Denver International Airport (DEN/KDEN), Denver, Colorado, US
One of the newer airports on this list, DEN was opened in 1995 and is 25 miles from the city center of Denver, Colorado. DEN also has the longest civil runway in use in the US. It has six runways, with the longest being 16,000 feet. Due to the high elevation of the airport, where the air is thinner, aircraft require longer distances to get enough airflow over the wings to take off safely. DEN has historically been a very busy airport due to its midway location in the US. In 2021, Denver International Airport received 58,828,552 passengers, a 74.4% increase from 2020.
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2. Dallas Fort Worth International Airport (DFW/KDFW), Texas, US
DFW serves the Dallas-Fort Worth area in Texas. Additionally, DFW is the largest hub for American Airlines (A1G) (AAL) and the second-largest airline hub in the world. Construction began in DFW in 1969 after several decades of disagreements between the city of Dallas and Fort Worth on collaborating on a site for an airport to serve both cities. Commercial operations began in 1974, with an American Airlines (A1G) (AAL) flight being the first to land. DFW has seven runways, with the two longest being 13,401 feet. Total passenger traffic in 2021 was 62,465,756, with a 58.7% increase from 2020.
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1. Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport (ATL/KATL), Georgia, US
ATL is located seven miles south of downtown Atlanta, Georgia. ATL is the largest airline hub in the world, with Delta being the home airline. ATL has had the most passenger traffic worldwide since 1998 and only lost its number one place in 2020 due to COVID-19 restrictions. ATL was a busy airport when it initially began operations in 1926 as Candler Field and was later named Atlanta Municipal Airport in 1942. Then, in 1971, the name changed again to William B. Hartsfield Atlanta Airport after a former Atlanta mayor. It wasn’t until 2003 that the city council changed the name to Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport to honor Mayor Maynard Jackson, who was instrumental in expanding the airport in the late 1970s. ATL has four runways, with the longest being 12,390 feet. Total passenger traffic in 2021 was a staggering 75,704,760 passengers, with a 76.4% increase from 2021. Once again, ATL solidified its place as the world’s biggest airport in terms of passenger traffic.
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Due to the increase of globalization, air traffic is expected to continue growing year by year. Aircraft manufacturers are continuously receiving orders and building new airplanes to meet demands and airports are still being built and existing ones are still being expanded. There is also massive growth in the Middle East and in Asia. When data for 2022 becomes available it is safe to say we can expect growth in passenger numbers for all of the airports listed. Will Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport be number one again?
Top 10 biggest airports in the world
|Ranking||Airport||Passenger numbers||Percentage change from 2020|
|1||Atlanta, Georgia, USA (ATL)||75 704 760||76.4|
|2||Dallas/Fort Worth, Texas, USA (DFW)||62 465 756||58.7|
|3||Denver, Colorado, USA (DEN)||58 828 552||74.4|
|4||Chicago, Illinois, USA (ORD)||54 020 399||75.1|
|5||Los Angeles California, USA (LAX)||48 007 284||66.8|
|6||Charlotte, North Carolina, USA (CLT)||43 302 230||59.2|
|7||Orlando, Florida, USA (MCO)||40 351 068||86.7|
|8||Guangzhou, People’s Republic of China (CAN)||40 259 401||-8.0|
|9||Chengdu, People’s Republic of China (CTU)||40 117 496||-1.5|
|10||Las Vegas, Nevada, USA (LAS)||39 754 366||78.6|