Today we’re going to look at the busiest airports in Asia. Below you can find the top ten by passenger numbers and we also take a look at how the pandemic radically altered air travel across the continent in 2020 when most international services were halted.
The data comes from the 2019 Airport Traffic Report (a US study) and the 2020 Civil Airports Statistics Report (Chinese). Figures are rounded up or down to the nearest 100,000 in all cases. The five busiest Asian airports below are ranked by 2019 figures, the last year when domestic and international air travel was not impacted by Covid-19.
The Busiest Airports in Asia by Passenger Numbers
1. Beijing Capital Airport, China
Beijing Capital ranked as the busiest airport in Asia in 2019 hitting 100 million passengers. That also made it the second busiest globally that year and its growth has mirrored China’s rise to a status of huge global significance. Passenger numbers at Beijing Capital have almost doubled since 2008, the year the Chinese capital hosted the Olympics.
Located around 30 km to the northeast of the city centre, the airport has three terminals and is the main entry port into Beijing for international visitors. However things are changing with the new Beijing Daxing International Airport (opened in 2019) set to ease the burden. It will be the hub for SkyTeam airlines such as Air France, KLM, Delta Air Lines, and Korean Air.
Passengers in 2019: 100.0 million
2. Dubai International Airport, UAE
The list of the busiest airports in the Middle East is topped by Dubai, one of the major hubs for global air travel and long-haul flights. Its location always made it a natural choice for long-haul layovers and money has been poured into developing a world class airport during the first two decades of the 21st Century to cope with the massively increasing demand.
Passenger figures have increased more than ten-fold since the 1990’s and the airport celebrated serving its billionth passenger in 2018. It’s all a far cry from Dubai Airport’s origins as little more than a small landing strip in the desert when it first opened in 1960. Even the original runway was made of compacted sand.
Passengers in 2019: 86.4 million
3. Tokyo International (Haneda) Airport, Japan
Tokyo’s status as a major air hub is more established with Haneda International comfortably the busiest airport in Japan and the third busiest on the Asian continent in 2019. Having recently celebrated its 90th birthday, the airport continues to act as the principal hub for national flag carrier Japan Airlines, as well as numerous others.
The crowded airspace has increasingly become an issue in Tokyo though with Haneda’s situation between a US airbase and Narita International Airport not helping matters. The latter actually serves most of Tokyo’s international flights but Japan’s island nature ensures there is always significant demand for domestic services which almost all depart from and arrive at Tokyo Haneda. The Japanese government has also pushed for Haneda to become the primary location for business routes.
Passengers in 2019: 85.5 million
4. Shanghai Pudong International Airport, China
Shanghai Pudong is another of the most important Asian airports. While the old Shanghai Hongqiao Airport, which predates the birth of the People’s Republic of China in 1949, is still operational, the vast majority of international services now use Pudong which opened its doors for the first time in 1999. Its passenger numbers have more than doubled over the last decade, hitting over 76 million in 2019 compared to just 32 million in 2009.
Pudong Airport is perhaps best known for its rapid Maglev service which connects the airport to Central Shanghai in just eight minutes with top speeds of 431 km/hr making it one of the fastest rail services in the world.
It has also been listed as the second largest airport in Asia by size with a total surface area of 3350 hectares. That’s still nothing compared to the unfeasibly big King Fahd International Airport in Saudi Arabia which with a total surface area of 78,000 hectares is the largest in the world by size.
Passengers in 2019: 76.2 million
5. Guangzhou BaiYun International Airport, China
Finally we return to China and Guangzhou Bai Yun International. This may not be as well known globally with fewer international services but it’s a huge hub for domestic travel in China and a major gateway into the heavily populated South China region.
It’s even younger than Shanghai Pudong having only opened in 2004, replacing the former airport of the same name. It’s yet another example of China’s rapid development in that in less than two decades it has transformed into an airport which carries more than 70 million passengers each year during normal times – more than long established Asian air hubs such as Seoul and Singapore.
It also sees a large number of cargo flights after FedEx made the airport their Asia-Pacific hub shortly after it opened in the mid 2000’s.
Passengers in 2019: 73.4 million
The ten busiest airports in Asia in 2019 are rounded off by Hong Kong (71.4 million), Seoul Incheon (71.2 million), Delhi Indira Gandhi (68.5 million), Singapore Changi (68.3 million) and Bangkok Suvarnabhumi (65.4 million).
Top 10 busiest airports in Asia in 2020
|Rank||Airport||Passengers (2020)||Passengers (2019)|
|1||Guangzhou BaiYun||43.8 million||73.4 million|
|2||Chengdu Shuangliu||40.7 million||55.9 million|
|3||Shenzhen Bao’an||37.9 million||52.9 million|
|4||Chongqing Jiangbei||34.9 million||44.8 million|
|5||Beijing Capital||34.5 million||100.0 million|
|6||Kunming Changshui||33.0 million||48.1 million|
|7||Shanghai Hongqiao||31.2 million||45.6 million|
|8||Xi’an Xianyang||31.1 million||47.2 million|
|9||Tokyo Haneda||31.0 million||85.5 million|
|10||Shanghai Pudong||30.5 million||76.2 million|
Chinese domination really increased in 2020 with 9 of the 10 busiest airports in Asia being Chinese as international travel massively decreased due to the pandemic. The major international airports in Beijing and Shanghai did slip considerably down the rankings too though while those serving more domestic flights experienced less significant drop-offs, meaning there was still a notable change in the ranking of the busiest airports in China.
As a result, Guangzhou BaiYun leapt to top spot and was also in fact the busiest airport in the world in 2020, just piping Hartsfield–Jackson Atlanta International Airport. The only non-Chinese airport to make the top 10 busiest Asian airports in 2020 was Tokyo Haneda which experienced a 64% drop on the previous year. The likes of Dubai and Bangkok Suvarnabhumi witnessed even bigger declines due to the lack of international travellers.
This post was published in September 2021.