Depending on who you ask, there are approximately 200 countries in the world, with the United Nations stating there are 251 countries and the United States’ answer hovering around 196.
Of those countries, there are over 41,000 airports spread across the globe. Of those airports, the United States is home to approximately 50 percent of them between commercial and private airports.
Air flight hasn’t been in existence all that long, with Wilbur and Orville Wright taking the first air flight on December 17, 1903.
After that, airports were constructed when it became clear that air travel would be useful in defense mechanisms during wartime. Learn more about how many airports there are in the world here.
Table of Contents
Yes, there are categories of airports, and it is worth noting that not all airports that exist are open for use or business.
Public use airports are categorized according to the number of passengers managed annually, and there are also cargo landing airports. The categories for airports are defined by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) as follows:
- Commercial – publicly owned, 2,500 annual enplanements
- Large hub – 1 percent of annual national enplanements
- Small hub – 0.25 to 1.0 percent of annual national enplanements
- Medium hub – 0.05 to 0.25 percent of annual national enplanements
- Non-hub – less than 0.05 percent but more than 10,000 annual national enplanements
- Non-primary commercial service – between 2,500 and 10,000 national enplanements.
- Reliever – federally designated airport to relieve commercial congestion
- General aviation – public use with fewer than 2,500 enplanements annually
- Cargo service airport – measured by cargo and landing waits
In this list, non-primary airports are further broken down into the categories of national, regional, local, basic, and unclassified.
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) defines non-primary airports as airports that provide access within communities at both the national and international level, or across states in the United States.
Regional airports are categorized here based on the population of the region they are serving.
Five of the largest airports in the world are in the United States. The largest airport in the world by area is King Fahd International (DMM) in Dammam, Saudi Arabia.
The second-largest airport in the world is Denver International (DEN) in Denver, Colorado.
The largest airports in the world are as follows:
- King Fahd International (DMM) – Dammam, Saudi Arabia
- Denver International (DEN) – Denver, Colorado, United States
- Dallas/Fort Worth International (DFW) – Dallas, Texas, United States
- Orlando International (MCO) – Orlando, Florida, United States
- Washington Dulles International (IAD) – Washington, D.C., United States
- Beijing Daxing International (PKX) – Beijing, China
- George Bush International Airport (IAH) – Houston, Texas, United States
- Shanghai Pudong International (PVG) – Shanghai, China
- Cairo International Airport (CAI) – Cairo, Egypt
- Suvarnabhumi International (BKK) – Bangkok, Thailand
When determining the size of airports, the size is first measured by actual physical size.
King Fahd International Airport in Damman, Saudi Arabia, for example, covers approximately 300 square miles, which is approximately the physical size of all five New York City boroughs combined.
This airport has a greenhouse and mosque on-site with a capacity for 2,000 worshippers.
Still, this airport is only able to serve approximately 10 million travelers every year, whereas the busiest airport in Saudi Arabia is King Abdulaziz International Airport, which services 41 million passengers.
The busiest airports in the world are defined as busy by the number of travelers or passengers that they serve every year.
Enplanements are a different definition, as it is reasonable to conclude that one traveler could feasibly make more than one enplanement in one airport per travel itinerary.
The busiest airport in the world is Guangzhou Baiyun International Airport (CAN) in Guangzhou, China, as it serves almost 73 million travelers annually.
Of the top 10 busiest airports in the world, three are located in the United States, and seven are located in China.
The second busiest airport in the world is Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (ATL) which services over 43 million passengers annually.
Prior to the pandemic, the top 10 busiest airports in the world by numbers of passengers were as follows:
- Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (ATL): Atlanta, Georgia, United States
- Chengdu Shuangliu International Airport (CTU): Chengdu, China
- Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport (DFW): Grapevine, Texas, United States
- Shenzhen Bao’an International Airport (SZX): Shenzhen, China
- Chongqing Jiangbei International Airport (CKG): Chongqing, China
- Beijing Capital International Airport (PEK): Beijing, China
- Denver International Airport (DEN): Denver, Colorado, United States
- Kunmig Changshui International Airport (KMG): Kunmig, China
- Shanghai Hongqiao International Airport (SHA): Shanghai, China
Other busy airports in the world include Paris-Charles de Gaulle Airport (CDG) in France, and Japan’s Tokyo Haneda Airport (HND).
Are there airports almost as busy as the top 10 busiest?
Yes, there are other airports almost as busy as the top 10 busiest airports. China and the United States are at the heart of the global economy, and their airports are naturally going to be larger and busier out of necessity alone.
Other busy airports include the Paris-Charles de Gaulle International Airport (CDG) in France, which serviced almost 70 million travelers annually prior to the pandemic.
Atlanta’s airport is a popular choice for Americans, as it offers two-hour flights to 80 percent of the domestic destinations in the United States, making it the busiest airport in the world for 20 years in a row.
Naturally, the pandemic has had an impact, but Atlanta is still a number one choice for many Americans for departures, standbys, and layover flights.
New York City is interestingly enough not on the list of the busiest airport centers in the world, and that is due to the way air traffic is split in the NYC area.
New York air traffic is split between seven locations. This will, naturally, divide the number of travelers serviced in each location annually.
In total, the seven New York airports service the most passengers in the world annually, nearing 130 million passengers a year in and out of New York City.
The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) tracks the number of airports in the United States, the nation home to the greatest number of airports in the world.
There are over 40 thousand airports around the globe, and almost half of those are in the United States.
Approximately 5,217 public airports were open in the United States in 2020, and there were an additional 14,702 private airports open in the United States in 2020.
The busiest single airport is the Hartfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (ATL) as previously discussed. It is also the busiest in the world.
The second busiest airport in the United States is the Los Angeles International Airport, and Chicago O’Hare International Airport is the third busiest.
The FAA classifies these airports as large hubs.
An example of a smaller airport would be the Northwest Arkansas National Airport (NXA), which offers 23 destinations within the United States and boards fewer than 100,000 travelers annually.
Airports in all sizes and for all purposes span the country, serving the community, culture, defense, and an economy that feeds the world.
When you are traveling, do you ever have an opportunity to enjoy an airport? Or are you bogged down by the stress and fatigue of air travel? You are not alone.
What is your favorite airport when you travel? For most travelers, it will be the one that is the most convenient to their current location, affordable, and also easy to navigate and use.
Of the 40 thousand airports in the world, which one would you pick first?