Mapping Airways: The World’s Flight Paths and Airports

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Map of the world's flight paths and busiest air routes

Mapping Airways: World’s Flight Paths and Airports

There are up to 8,755 commercial flights in the air at any given time of day. These flights transport thousands of people (and millions of dollars worth of goods) around the world.

But where are these people and goods headed? This map from Adam Symington uses historical data from OpenFlights to visualize the world’s flight paths.

The graphic shows a comprehensive data set encompassing 67,663 different routes that connect 10,000 different airports across the globe.

A Note On the Data

The map uses an OpenFlights database provided by the third-party source that hasn’t been updated since June 2014.

Because of this, the data used for the graphic is of historical value only. However, this detailed map sparked our curiosity and got us wondering—what are some of the busiest aviation hubs around the world right now?

We did some digging, and here’s what we found.

Busiest Airports by Passengers

There are several ways to gauge an airport’s popularity. One way is to measure total passenger traffic throughout the year.

According to Airports Council International (ACI), eight of the top 10 busiest airports for passenger traffic in 2021 were in America. Here’s a look at the top 10 list, as of April 11, 2022:

Rank Airport Country Passenger Traffic (2021)
1 Atlanta GA (ATL) 🇺🇸 US 75,704,760
2 Dallas/Fort Worth TX (DFW) 🇺🇸 US 62,465,756
3 Denver CO (DEN) 🇺🇸 US 58,828,552
4 Chicago IL (ORD) 🇺🇸 US 54,020,399
5 Los Angeles CA (LAX) 🇺🇸 US 48,007,284
6 Charlotte NC (CLT) 🇺🇸 US 43,302,230
7 Orlando FL (MCO) 🇺🇸 US 40,351,068
8 Guangzhou (CAN) 🇨🇳​ China 40,259,401
9 Chengdu (CTU) 🇨🇳​ China 40,117,496
10 Las Vegas NV (LAS) 🇺🇸 US 39,754,366

In 2021, the airport with the most passenger traffic was Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. It accommodated more than 75 million passengers last year—a 76.4% increase compared to 2020 figures.

Hartsfield-Jackson is well-known for being one of the busiest airports in the world. One reason for this is its convenient location—according to the airport’s official website, Atlanta is within a two-hour flight from 80% of the U.S. population.

Dallas/Forth Worth (DFW) came in second place, seeing 62.5 million passengers throughout 2021. DFW was one of the only airports to boost its service offerings throughout the pandemic, and is also the main hub for American Airlines, the world’s largest airline by fleet size.

Busiest Airports by Cargo

While the U.S. dominates the ranking when it comes to passenger traffic, the list is much more diverse when looking at air cargo volumes. Here’s a look at the ranking, based on loaded and unloaded freight and mail (including transit freight):

Rank Airport Country Cargo Traffic (Metric Tonnes, 2021)
1 Hong Kong SAR (HKG) 🇭🇰​ Hong Kong 5,025,495
2 Memphis TN (MEM) 🇺🇸 US 4,480,465
3 Shanghai (PVG) 🇨🇳​ China 3,982,616
4 Anchorage AK (ANC) 🇺🇸 US 3,555,160
5 Incheon (ICN) 🇰🇷​ South Korea 3,329,292
6 Louisville KY (SDF) 🇺🇸 US 3,052,269
7 Taipei (TPE) 🇹🇼​ Taiwan 2,812,065
8 Los Angeles CA (LAX) 🇺🇸 US 2,691,830
9 Tokyo (NRT) 🇯🇵​ Japan 2,644,074
10 Doha (DOH) 🇶🇦​ Qatar 2,620,095

Hong Kong (HKG) takes the top spot since the airport processed more than 5.0 million metric tonnes of freight and mail throughout 2021.

Hong Kong has been known as one of the busiest air cargo hubs for over a decade and is able to maintain this reputation because of its strategic location, impressive infrastructure, efficient customs, and business-friendly trade regulations.

The COVID-19 Impact on Aviation

The global pandemic hit the aviation industry hard. At its lowest point, international travel was down 98% from normal levels.

While the aviation industry is starting to recover from its COVID-induced slump, things still haven’t fully bounced back yet, especially in places like Shanghai, where lockdowns are still being mandated.

But experts remain hopeful for the future. According to ACI World’s General Director Luis Felipe de Oliveira, last year’s recovery was just the beginning.

“With many countries taking steps towards the return of a certain normality, lifting almost all the health measures and travel restrictions as supported by science, we welcome the continuation of air travel demand’s recovery in 2022.”
-Luis Felipe de Oliveira, ACI World’s Director General

The post Mapping Airways: The World’s Flight Paths and Airports appeared first on Visual Capitalist.

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