Biggest Busiest Airports

Written by Mark Avery on Thursday, 08 December 2011. Posted in Features, News from 2011

Which Airport is the world's biggest? And the busiest?

The Biggest Airport in the World

  • Taken literally as the airport which takes up the most land mass, this is the King Fahd International Airport in Damman, Saudi Arabia. It takes up some 780 square kilometres - an area larger than many cities.
  • By comparison, London Heathrow takes up around 3,000 acres, or just 7.5 square miles.

The Busiest Airport in the World

This depends on whether you monitor aircraft movements (the numbers of take-offs and landings), or passenger numbers.

An airport such as Washington National may have relatively high aircraft movements, but as the largest aircraft it handles is a Boeing 757, it carries fewer passengers than many other airports with similar movements.

Movements and passenger numbers are both acceptable methods of determining the "busiest" airport, although passenger numbers is the generally quoted figure.


Most Passengers


Atlanta Hartsfield Jackson is the busiest airport in the world, handling 89 million passengers in 2010. Beijing Capital is the world’s second busiest airport (74 million passengers in 2010), with former top dog Chicago O'Hare coming in third with 67 million passengers in 2010.

Busiest International Airport

London Heathrow handles the most international passengers (as opposed to passengers on domestic flights, which make up the majority of traffic at US airports). Heathrow carried 61 million international passengers in 2008, beating Paris Charles de Gaulle (56 million international passengers) and Amsterdam Schiphol (47 million international passengers) into second and third place respectively.

Busiest City (all airports)

  • When the flights from all airports in a city are combined, London is by far the busiest aviation centre in the world. Around 130 million passengers pass through London’s airports each year. Second placed Tokyo handles a mere 100 million passengers annually.
  • Only London, Tokyo and New York have two airports in the top 30 worldwide.
  • Los Angeles International Airport handles more origin and destination passengers (i.e. people who are actually visiting, or residing in the city, as opposed to transit passengers) than any other.

Source: Airport Council International

About the Author

Mark Avery

Mark Avery

Mark Avery wanted to be a Concorde pilot, but being colour blind put a halt to that particular career path. The demise of Concorde didn't help matters either! He took up journalism instead. Following a stint moaning about Coventry City's plight for a living, the dad of two girls is now is in charge of all things editorial at

Comments (8)

  • Faisal


    10 December 2011 at 19:10 |
    What about that Al Maktoum Airport of UAE? Largest by area ?
  • James Avery

    James Avery

    12 December 2011 at 01:03 |
    Good question. As it currently stands, the DWC complex should end up as the 3rd largest airport site behind Riyadh and Dammam.In terms of passengers, for the time being, DWC is just a freight hub, although passenger numbers are projected to be upto 150m per year. Considering that Dubai has suffered in the recent financial crises, I think it will be some time before DWC becomes the major hub for Dubai, especially as the current Dubai International Airport already has the world's largest airport terminal building.

    One to watch, with a good deal of scepticism about its growth plans.
  • Deano


    13 January 2012 at 12:43 |
    Do you think that Camp Bastion near Lashkar Gah should have a look in here? They must be very high on the busiest airport in the world status? It must be busier than Birmingham Airport !
  • James Avery

    James Avery

    14 January 2012 at 13:36 |
    The article was about civilian airports, so in that respect no. If you start looking just on movements, there are some general aviation airfields too which have incredibly high movements, but have never seen a commercial flight. Also, airport size isn't always proportional to the number of flights, as Dammam and Riyadh have shown - although the very largest airport terminal buildings do tend to be at the busiest airports.
  • Christina Burton Holmes

    Christina Burton Holmes

    26 March 2012 at 23:09 |
    Great Article!
  • Peter


    20 May 2012 at 22:31 |
    What about Amsterdam Airport for size (land area). I fly into there frequently and it seems huge. It looks like 3 airfields. On a map it looks like 3 airfields bolted together.
    • James Avery

      James Avery

      22 May 2012 at 23:05 |
      Peter - Amsterdam is well known for its ridiculously long taxi times, especially if you land on the Polderbaan.

      However, if you are measuring land area for an airport it is the amount of space within the boundaries of airport operations which counts, not jut the space between the most extreme points. So Schiphol Airport is actually not as large as it seems as there is farmland between the runways.

      If you wanted to measure airports by the volume of transactions which take place on the site (including the value of the flights themselves), I think Amsterdam would also be near the top of any list, as they pioneered the "airport city" concept by providing hotels, conference facilities and offices on site long before anyone else started to do it.
  • Fumbletrumpet


    28 July 2012 at 16:28 |
    Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson seemed impressive (in 2011) since although large felt relatively un-fussed somehow. Having it's terminals strung out along a light rail system made it easy to get to where you'd got to go.
    Watching the 'planes coming and going from just one of it's runways was impressive - there's A LOT going on there !
    Not been to their new International terminal, but have heard it's a little disappointing.
    That Heathrow is up there is no surprise and guess it'll only get busier - the Olympics seems to have spruced it up a bit just lately (and man, did it need it in places !) which is all to the good.

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