ANALYSIS: Emerging airports bridge the gap on traditional hubs

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The extent to which key airports in emerging markets have been catching up in passenger numbers with the traditional hubs underlines the continuing shift in the balance of global traffic in the airline market.

Data from the latest Airline Business airport's special report, using preliminary traffic figures for 2012 from ACI World, shows fast-growing Dubai and Jakarta airports both breaking into the top 10 biggest global hubs by passenger number for the first time. Dubai and Jarkarta, which continued to experience double-digit growth in 2012, handled 57.8 million and 57.7 million passengers respectively.

While both remain some way behind the world's biggest hub, Atlanta Hartsfield and its 95.5 million passengers, it represents a drastic shift from the situation just a decade ago. In 2002 Dubai was only 65th largest in the world by passenger number and Jakarta five places below that.

Other key emerging hubs enjoyed similar strong growth. Guangzhou in China has jumped from the 62nd biggest airport to the 18th biggest in 2012 after trebling passenger numbers to over 48 million over the last 10 years. Passenger numbers have risen more than threefold at Istanbul Ataturk in Turkey to 45 million ranking, which broke into the top 20 biggest airports for the first time last year. That compares with the 75th biggest in 2002 and illustrates why Turkey is next year beginning construction of a new airport for the city ultimately capable of handling 150 million passengers.

Perhaps most striking has been the rise of Beijing Capital airport. Passenger numbers grew from 27 million in 2002 to nearly 82 million last year, putting it behind only Atlanta among the leading hubs.

 airport pax 2002-12

By contrast the busiest airport in 2002, while retaining a place at the top table, have had to get used to an altogether slower pace of growth. Chicago O'Hare for example, the second biggest airport in the world in 2002, was handling little more than 100,000 passengers ten years later.

Of the emerging hubs, in many cases the growth has been driven by single carriers. Emirates for example carried 8.5 million passengers in 2012 compared to nearly 34 million in its last financial year; Turkish Airlines 10.4 million passengers in 2002 compared to 39 million last year; and Air China from 10.6 million to group figures of nearly 50 million.