Hartsfield-Jackson International is still the world’s busiest airport, but other airports are closing the gap, the latest annual figures show.
Of the top 10 airports measured by passenger traffic, Hartsfield-Jackson was the only one with a decline in 2013. About 94.4 million passengers used the Atlanta airport last year, down 1.1 percent from 2012, according to preliminary results from Airports Council International.
No. 2 Beijing Capital International Airport logged a 2.2 percent increase to 83.7 million passengers in 2013. New airports planned in China could slow growth at Beijing Capital, however.
The fastest growing airport in the top 10 was Dubai in the United Arab Emirates, a Middle East hub that had a 15.2 percent increase in passengers in 2013, to finish at No. 7.
“Dubai is likely to move up several spots again in the 2014 rankings, solidifying its status as the major hub connecting the east and west,” said ACI World economics director Rafael Echevarne in a written statement.
Chicago O’Hare, the second busiest U.S. airport for passenger traffic and second busiest in the world for flight operations behind Atlanta, is also narrowing the gap. Chicago had a 0.6 percent increase in flight counts while Atlanta had a 2.1 percent decline.
The reduction in airline passenger traffic in Atlanta comes as Southwest Airlines converts AirTran Airways’ connecting hub in Atlanta into a smaller operation. Delta Air Lines, Hartsfield-Jackson’s biggest operator, has replaced smaller regional jets with larger aircraft, also reducing flight counts.
Hartsfield-Jackson spokesman Reese McCranie said projections show 1.5 percent growth for the next six months.
Many travelers dislike busy airports, but to local leaders, the “busiest airport” title for Hartsfield-Jackson has marketing value as a symbol of commerce and economic development.
Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed has made growing air cargo traffic a key priority, but 2013 figures show Atlanta has yet to break the top 30 world’s busiest cargo airports. Hong Kong and Memphis are Nos. 1 and 2 for cargo traffic.