Unveiling Airport Growth in East Asia and Beyond

As the aviation industry charts a course toward recovery, the final quarter of 2023 unveils a compelling narrative of airport growth and resurgence.



November 23, 2023

DALLAS — As the aviation industry charts a course toward recovery, the final quarter of 2023 unveils a compelling narrative of growth and resurgence in the skies. The COVID-19 pandemic brought silence to the world's airports, but now they are filled with the hum of engines and the bustle of passengers.

In the revitalization of commercial aviation, certain airports emerge as trailblazers, shaping the trajectory of the industry's resurgence. The following analysis delves into the fastest-growing airports that have defied the odds and soared to unprecedented heights.

East Asia's airports have emerged from strict pandemic restrictions and are now thriving. From Hong Kong's modern city to Xian's ancient wonders, these airports are among the world's fastest-growing. But it's not just Asia—we also explore Cancun's beaches, Athens' history, and Denver's mountains, discovering the unique stories of each airport in this global journey of growth.

By Wylkie Chan - Wylkie Chan, CC BY-SA 3.0,
A bird's-eye view of Hong Kong International Airport (HKG). Photo: Wylkie Chan via Wikimedia Commons

The Phenomenal Rise of East Asia's Airports

East Asia's airports are expanding rapidly, showcasing impressive growth in the last quarter of 2023. Despite the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, these airports have rebounded and are now dominating the world's fastest-growing aviation hubs.

Hong Kong International Airport (HKG) leads the way with a remarkable 220% growth in Q4 2023 compared to the previous year, serving over 7.6 million passengers. This rebound reflects the lifting of restrictions and a renewed excitement for air travel in the region.

Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport (TPE) and Beijing Capital International Airport (PEK) follow HKG as the fastest-growing airports, further emphasizing the region's dominance in aviation growth. Taipei has witnessed a commendable 127% increase in seat capacity, reaching 6.4 million seats, while Beijing's capital airport experienced a notable 118% surge, with a seat count of 11.2 million.

These numbers underscore the rapid pace at which East Asia is reclaiming its position as a global aviation powerhouse.

Hong Kong International Airport (HKG) Midfield Concourse

Hong Kong International Airport

Hong Kong International Airport has experienced a remarkable surge in seat capacity, demonstrating its resilience and determination to overcome pandemic restrictions. With a 220% increase in seats, from 3.1 million in Q4 last year to 7.6 million in Q4 2023, HKG has become a prominent player in global aviation. This growth aligns with Hong Kong's role as a global financial and logistics hub, contributing to economic development in the region.

EVA Air, B-17882, Boeing, 787-9 Dreamliner, Takeoff, Rotate, Taiwan, Taipei, Taoyuan International Airport (TPE). Photo: Jden Lee/Airways

Taipei Taoyuan International Airport

Nestled in the heart of Taiwan, Taipei Taoyuan International Airport (TPE) stands at the forefront, mesmerizing the aviation world with its remarkable growth. Witnessing an astounding surge of 127% in seat capacity, TPE showcases the nation's ability to gracefully navigate the stormy seas of the pandemic.

Experiencing an extraordinary expansion, TPE boasts an impressive 127% increase in seat capacity, soaring from 2,830,180 in the fourth quarter of the previous year to a staggering 6,428,150 in the fourth quarter of 2023. As a result, TPE has solidified its position as a prominent player in the revival of East Asia's aviation industry, establishing itself as an indispensable gateway.

Beijing Capital International Airport (PEK). Photo: Beijing Capital International Airport

Beijing Capital International Airport

Beijing Capital International Airport (PEK) emerges as a dominant force in aviation growth, connecting China to the world with unprecedented strength. With an impressive 118% increase in seat capacity, PEK showcases Beijing's ambitions as a global aviation powerhouse.

As China's primary aviation hub, Beijing Capital International Airport plays a crucial role in the country's economic revival. The significant growth in seat capacity, soaring from 5,144,070 in Q4 of the previous year to an impressive 11,235,562 in Q4 2023, solidifies Beijing's status as a global leader in aviation. This expansion aligns with China's broader strategy to enhance connectivity and drive economic development.

Similarly, Shanghai Pudong International Airport (PVG) and Seoul Incheon International Airport (ICN) have also experienced substantial growth. PVG's 94% increase in seats reflects China's economic resurgence, while ICN's 85% growth highlights South Korea's effective pandemic management and robust aviation infrastructure.

Comac C919 First VR Test at Shanghai Pudong International Airport

Shanghai Pudong International Airport

In the heartbeat of China's economic resurgence, Shanghai Pudong International Airport (PVG) takes center stage with a remarkable 94% increase in seat capacity. PVG is not merely an airport; it's the gateway to China's thriving metropolis, where tradition meets modernity in a dynamic dance. As the iconic skyline of Shanghai reaches new heights, PVG mirrors the nation's economic vibrancy and its role as a global economic powerhouse.

Shanghai Pudong International Airport's substantial growth, from 5,938,832 seats in Q4 last year to 11,531,532 in Q4 2023, underscores its pivotal role in facilitating China's international connectivity. PVG's expansion reflects Shanghai's status as a hub for business and tourism, contributing to the city's allure as a cosmopolitan center. The airport's cutting-edge facilities and strategic location position it as a key player in the global aviation landscape.

Asiana Airlines and Korean Air Airbus A380s on finals at Seoul Incheon International Airport (ICN)

Seoul Incheon International Airport

Seoul Incheon International Airport (ICN) showcases South Korea's blend of tradition and modernity with an impressive 85% increase in seat capacity, reflecting the nation's progress. The airport's Q4 growth from 5,121,396 seats to 9,486,746 seats highlights effective pandemic management and strategic investments.

Incheon remains a prominent transit hub, attracting airlines and passengers, and contributing to East Asia's aviation resurgence. Emerging airports like Beijing Daxing International Airport (PKX) and Chengdu Tianfu International Airport (TFU) also experience significant growth, emphasizing the region's commitment to global connectivity.

Beijing Daxing International Airport (PKX). Photo: Zaha Hadid Architects, via Wikimedia Commons

Beijing Daxing International Airport

Beijing Daxing International Airport (PKX) soars with a remarkable 76% increase in seat capacity, symbolizing China's ambition and innovation. Going from 4,709,144 seats to 8,287,576 seats in Q4, PKX showcases the nation's commitment to expanding its aviation infrastructure.

With its strategic location, modern facilities, and growing list of airlines, PKX is a rising star in China's airport network.

Kansai Int'l airport (KIX)
Osaka, Japan, October 28, 2019: General view of Osaka Kansai International Airport (KIX). It is located on an artificial island in Osaka, Japan

Osaka Kansai International Airport

Osaka Kansai International Airport (KIX) showcased an 82% increase in seat capacity in Q4. From 2,244,696 seats to 4,081,109 seats, KIX is a gateway to Japan's captivating blend of tradition and innovation for more visitors. The airport's growth reflects Japan's commitment to reviving tourism and strengthening its global aviation presence, benefiting the Kansai region and the nation's economy.

Chengdu Tianfu International Airport (TFU). Photo: China Airline Travel

Chengdu Tianfu International Airport

Chengdu Tianfu International Airport (TFU) adds a vibrant note to East Asia's aviation resurgence with an impressive 80% increase in seat capacity. TFU represents China's narrative of growth and connectivity, serving as a gateway to Sichuan's culinary delights and rich cultural heritage. With 4,816,001 seats growing to 8,659,544, TFU showcases China's commitment to developing regional hubs and driving economic growth in the Chengdu metropolitan area.

Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KUL). Photo: Kuala Lumpur International Airport

Kuala Lumpur International Airport

Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KUL) spreads its wings with a 44% increase in seat capacity, symbolizing Malaysia's diversity and progress. From 6,014,440 seats to 8,664,955 seats, KUL serves as a crossroads of cultures in the heart of Malaysia. The airport's strategic location and modern facilities position Malaysia as a key player in Southeast Asia's aviation resurgence, contributing to the nation's economic vibrancy.

Xian Xianyang International Airport (XIY) as it will look after expansion. Photo: Xian Xianyang International Airport

Xian Xianyang International Airport

Xi'an Xianyang International Airport (XIY) combines ancient history with modernity, showcasing a 59% increase in seat capacity. From 4,851,123 seats to 7,698,538 seats, XIY reflects the resurgence of China's ancient capital.

Growth of East Asia's AirportsAirportQ423 seatsvs. Q422Hong Kong HKG7,674,671220%Taipei TPE6,428,150127%Beijing PEK11,235,562118%Urumqi URC4,317,419105%Shanghai PVG11,531,53294%Seoul ICN9,486,74685%Osaka KIX4,081,10982%Beijing PKX8,287,57676%Chengdu TFU8,659,54480%Guangzhou CAN12,432,42973%Zhengzhou CGO4,857,67260%Xian XIY7,698,53859%Kuala Lumpur KUL8,664,95544%Chongqing CKG7,592,06247%Qingdao TAO4,451,95147%Summary Table of East Asian Airports

Future Trajectory: Sustainability and Innovation

Looking ahead, East Asia's airports must prioritize sustainability and innovation. With global environmental concerns, these airports need to embrace eco-friendly practices and invest in technologies to reduce their carbon footprint. This includes adopting electric ground vehicles, exploring alternative energy sources, and adopting a sustainable approach for long-term success.

Collaboration with industry stakeholders, governments, and environmental organizations is crucial in charting this course. The adoption of sustainable aviation fuels, advancements in aircraft technology, and integration of smart infrastructure are essential for rapid and environmentally responsible growth.

Tim Griffith | HOK
Hamad International Airport, Doha, Qatar. Photo: Tim Griffith | HOK

Beyond East Asia: Global Airports on the Rise

While East Asia's airports are growing rapidly, airports worldwide are also experiencing notable growth, indicating a broader trend of recovery and expansion in the aviation industry. This is evident in the reshuffling of global rankings, as traditionally dominant airports in Europe and the Americas face challenges from their East Asian counterparts.

Examining global airport data reveals significant increases in seat capacity across a diverse range of airports, from Cairo International Airport (CAI) in Africa to Nashville International Airport (BNA) in North America.

Orlando International Airport (MCO) in the United States stands out with 26% growth, showcasing a strong domestic travel market, while Denver International Airport (DEN) follows with a 21% increase, demonstrating the resilience of major U.S. hubs.

Volaris at Cancun International Airport (CUN).

Cancun International Airport

Cancun International Airport (CUN) shines as a top global aviation destination. Despite the pandemic's challenges, CUN achieved a remarkable 49% seat increase, from 3,326,607 in Q4 last year to 4,960,206 in Q4 2023. This growth showcases the resilience of the Latin American aviation sector.

Cairo International Airport (CAI) Terminal 1. Photo: Cairo Airport Transfer

Cairo International Airport

Cairo International Airport (CAI) reveals impressive growth, with a 47% seat capacity increase. The Cairene airport seat capacity rose from 3,056,742 in Q4 last year to 4,496,699 in Q4 2023, reflecting Egypt's efforts to revive its tourism sector and enhance its presence in global aviation. With modern facilities and a historical backdrop, CAI is a distinct gateway to North Africa and the Middle East.

Southwest Boeing 737 at Nashville International Airport (BNA). Photo: Nashville International Airport.

Nashville International Airport

Nashville International Airport (BNA) harmonizes with growth, boasting a 33% seat capacity increase. BNA's seat capacity rose from 2,943,232 in Q4 last year to 3,911,205 in Q4 this year, reflecting the region's popularity among business and leisure travelers. Situated strategically and brimming with cultural vibrancy, BNA holds a prominent position in the U.S. aviation landscape.

Orlando International Airport (MCO) North Terminal. Photo: Orlando International Airport.

Orlando International Airport

Orlando International Airport (MCO) shines amidst theme parks and magical adventures, boasting a 26% seat capacity increase. MCO's seat capacity rose from 7,343,666 in Q4 last year to 9,248,252 in Q4 this year, establishing Central Florida as a hub for tourism and business. MCO's expansion and modern facilities contribute to the region's economic vitality and its status as a top destination for travelers of all ages.

HZ-AK43 Saudia Boeing 777-300ER. Photo: Tony Bordelais/Airways

The Middle East and Europe: A Mixed Bag

In the Middle East, Riyadh King Khalid International Airport (RUH) shows 18% growth, highlighting the region's aspiration to become a global aviation hub. Meanwhile, Athens International Airport (ATH) in Europe achieved a commendable 20% growth, indicating the recovery of the European aviation sector.

However, it is worth noting that certain European airports, like Moscow's main airports and Munich, continue to face challenges, experiencing double-digit seat declines. This divergence in growth patterns emphasizes the complex and varied impact of the pandemic on different regions.

King Khalid International Airport, orthorectified satellite image. Photo: Public Domain

Riyadh King Khalid International Airport

Riyadh King Khalid International Airport (RUH) in the heart of the Arabian Peninsula embodies Saudi Arabia's aviation ambitions. With an 18% seat capacity increase, RUH highlights the nation's dedication to becoming a global aviation hub. RUH's seat capacity growth, from 4,468,937 in Q4 last year to 5,291,237 in Q4 this year, showcases Saudi Arabia's strategic investments in infrastructure and aviation.

The airport is capable of handling 65 take-offs and landings an hour, or 600 a day. Capacity will eventually be expanded by phase six to accommodate 50 million passengers a year. Photo: Airport Technology

Athens International Airport

Athens International Airport (ATH) in the cradle of Western civilization emerges with a 20% seat capacity increase. ATH's seat capacity grew from 3,402,285 in Q4 last year to 4,078,686 in Q4 2023, solidifying Greece's position as a cultural and historical hub in the European aviation landscape.

Hangzhou Xiaoshan International Airport (HGH). Photo: MNXANLvia Wikimedia Commons

Hangzhou Xiaoshan International Airport

Hangzhou Xiaoshan International Airport (HGH) in the misty landscapes of Zhejiang Province spreads its wings with a 22% seat capacity increase, mirroring the growth of China's enchanting destination. HGH's seat capacity growth, from 5,953,398 in Q4 last year to 7,254,847 in Q4 this year, showcases the region's prominence in Chinese aviation.

Bogota El Dorado International Airport (BOG). Photo: Felipe Restrepo Acosta - Own work via Wikimedia Commons.

Bogota El Dorado International Airport

Bogota El Dorado International Airport (BOG) in the high-altitude embrace of the Andes charts a course of growth with a 22% seat capacity increase. BOG's seat capacity growth, from 5,600,648 in Q4 last year to 6,811,080 in Q4 2023, reflects Colombia's commitment to enhancing connectivity and establishing itself as a hub in Latin America, playing a crucial role in the region.

Denver International Airport (DEN). Photo: Michael Rodeback/Airways

Denver International Airport

Denver International Airport (DEN) amidst the majestic Rocky Mountains soars as a hub of growth with a 21% seat capacity increase. DEN's seat capacity growth, from 10,044,251 in Q4 last year to 12,124,784 in Q4 2023, establishes Colorado as a prominent destination in the U.S. aviation landscape. With its expansion and commitment to sustainability, DEN fulfills its role as a hub for both business and leisure travelers in the heart of the Rockies.

Xiamen Gaoqi International Airport (XMN). Photo: N509FZ via Wikimedia Commons

Xiamen Gaoqi International Airport

Xiamen Gaoqi International Airport (XMN) in the coastal embrace of Fujian Province welcomes the world with a 17% seat capacity increase. XMN's seat capacity growth, from 4,091,935 in Q4 last year to 4,777,147 in Q4 this year, highlights Fujian Province's ascent in China's aviation landscape. With its strategic location and expansion, Xiamen Gaoqi International Airport plays a crucial role as a vital link between China and the rest of the world.

Other Global AirportsAirportQ4 23 seatsvs. Q4 2022Cancun CUN4,960,20649%Cairo CAI4,496,69947%Nashville BNA3,911,20533%Orlando MCO9,248,25226%Changsha CSX5,024,71026%Miami MIA7,869,28725%Haikou HAK4,569,88024%Las Vegas LAS9,285,09224%Urumqi URC4,317,41923%Hangzhou HGH7,254,84722%Bogota BOG6,811,08022%Denver DEN12,124,78421%Athens ATH4,078,68620%Riyadh RUH5,291,23718%Xiamen XMN4,777,14717%Summary Table of Global Airports

Delta Air Lines and Aeromexico aircraft seen from the roof of Seattle–Tacoma International Airport.
Featured image: Delta Air Lines and Aeromexico aircraft seen from the roof of Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. Photo: Brandon Farris/Airways

Navigating the Complexity: Global Collaboration

The aviation industry relies on global collaboration to address challenges effectively. International organizations like ICAO and ACI facilitate cooperation and standardize practices. Sharing best practices and technological advancements allows airports to adapt swiftly. This exchange of knowledge is pivotal in elevating the industry.

Q4 2023 showcases growth and resurgence in the global aviation sector. East Asia's airports, led by Hong Kong, Taipei, and Beijing, emerged as leaders in the post-pandemic era. Airports worldwide, including Cancun and Athens, contribute to the industry's revival. The skies are alive with the promise of a vibrant and interconnected world.

Feature Image: Chicago O'Hare International Airport. Photo: City of Chicago Media