Distributed unequally distributed over the globe, the world's largest airports are concentrated largely in three regions: the U.S., Europe and South and South-East Asia. The only major airport located elsewhere is in Dubai. There is not a single international airport of outstanding stature in South America, Africa, Australia or Oceania. This pattern of distribution reflects both the history of global economic development and the geographic positions of important trade and transport routes.
Airports in the USA
The United States play a dominant role in international air traffic. Seven of the 20 largest airports in the world are located in the U.S. alone. They are distributed among six cities, and New York the leading global metropolis is served by two airports: John F. Kennedy and Newark International. The figures that mark the threshold between the world's most important airports and their lesser counterparts are 28.2 million passengers and 330,000 tonnes of freight per year. A look at individual U.S. airports reveals significant differences. With a passenger volume of slightly more than 90 million, Atlanta is the unrivalled number one, followed by O'Hare in Chicago, which serves over 69 million passengers per year. Roughly 1.3 tonnes of freight pass through in Chicago every year twice the tonnage processed in Atlanta. With an annual total of 83 million passengers, even New York's two airports combined are not as busy as Atlanta, but they hold the lead in freight processing among U.S. airports with 2.3 million tonnes per year. New York ranks only fifth in the world in freight tonnage, however.
Airports in Asia
In terms of freight tonnage, the three leading airports in the world are in East Asia: Hong Kong (3.7 million t), Shanghai (2.6 million t) and Seoul (2.4 million t), although Seoul does not appear on the map due to its relatively low passenger volume. The two largest Asian airports are Tokyo-Haneda (66.7 million passengers) and Beijing (55.7 million.). Tokyo has a second airport: Tokyo Narita. Together, these two airports process over 102 million passengers annually, thus surpassing even Atlanta. Dubai, a relative newcomer in the league of global metropolises, is also a major freight hub. Some 1.8 million tonnes were processed in Dubai 2008 the ninth largest tonnage among airports world-wide.
Airports in Europe and elsewhere
In Europe, London-Heathrow, Paris-Charles de Gaulle, Frankfurt am Main, Madrid-Barajas and Amsterdam-Schiphol are the leading competitors among the world larges airports, with passenger volumes ranging from 67 million (London) and 47 million (Amsterdam). With over two million tonnes of freight per year, Paris and Frankfurt join the three leading Asian airports to round out the global top 5.
The airline passenger transport and freight carrier business is highly dynamic and volatile, and thus rankings are subject to frequent changes. Passenger figures also rise continually from one year to the next. This is perhaps best illustrated by the example of Mexico City, which does not appear on the map although its airport exceeded both threshold values in 2008.
Africa is not represented among the world's 45 most important airports. Johannesburg replaced Cairo as the leading airport on the continent in 1996; 17.3 million passengers and 321,000 tonnes of freight were processed there in 2006.
D. Falk; Ü: J. Southard