You don’t have to be a plane spotter or urban geographer to appreciate the significance of the annual World Airport Traffic Report. Covering statistics from over 2,200 airports across 160 countries, the report continues to confirm that the expansion of international travel across the globe is both rapid and fast changing.
Global air passenger numbers are predicted to hit the 3.6 billion mark in 2016, and international travel journeys continue to exceed the recent billion-a-year mark: quite simply, the world’s airports are struggling to keep up with the expanding demand in traffic.
Although traditional mega-hubs still hold their own statistically, a question mark hovers over whether they will be able to expand at the required rate to match future demand. For example, Atlanta Airport (ATL) remains the busiest airport for human and aircraft traffic, while Hong Kong Airport (HKG), sounding the siren on the future, is the busiest for cargo.
Meanwhile, as the world’s airport builders continue to hit some of the highest industrial growth rate targets, the debate of how best to plan and execute international airport facilities remains one of today’s monster juggling acts. Factoring in the environment, finance, politics, safety, security, technological development and landscape capacity – and pollution – is testing even the wealthiest of societies.
The London hub expansion debate continues to move at a glacial speed in comparison to many other airport development projects across Asia, the Middle East and South America. It will be a long time before the future of one of the world’s busiest airport regions will be on the drawing board, let alone completed and open for futuristic travel. Suffice to say that as the world gets to grips with airport expansion there are still no guarantees on what the future of air travel in the UK will be, despite the recent UK government’s Airports Commission Report, which gave Heathrow (the 7th busiest airport in the world with 72 million passengers a year) the nod as providing the best economic solution.
In a parallel universe, African airport expansion, which in time will arguably see the biggest growth over this century, has hardly lit the touch-paper in either predicted traveller numbers or design formats, let alone future capacity planning.
Elsewhere, globally we continue to see new airports open, old airports expand and futuristic airport designs multiply in tune with increased passenger traffic. Runways are being lengthened and passenger terminals expanded as aircraft landing numbers pile higher and higher.
The Middle East dominates the ‘monster-hub’ international airport expansion developments with, for example, Doha International Airport (DIA) serving a record 28 million passengers in only its first year of operation. The surge in Chinese travel sees the country investing $80 billion in aviation projects this year alone, introducing over 60 inland airports, as well as 30 new regional airports.
To my mind, the pick of large scale designs are: Changi Airport, Singapore, with its nature features adorning a ‘jewel of glass’ structure (opening 2018); Narita Airport, Tokyo, whose new terminal is dedicated to low-cost carriers; and Mexico City’s ‘world’s most sustainable’ International Airport, designed by Norman Foster and Fernando Romero.
In addition Sao Paulo, Amsterdam, Jeddah, Munich, Berlin, Chongqing, St Petersburg, Istanbul, Mt Fuji, Dubai, Beijing, Abu Dhabi and Incheon (South Korea) will be ushering in a plethora of new designs.