October 5, 2022

Why Atlanta’s airport is the world’s busiest

7 min read


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Atlanta (CNN) – Atlanta is “the big city” for the residents of the Deep South. But once you leave the region, it starts to feel small.

It is only the seventh largest metro area in the United States. And it doesn’t even break the top 40 in metro areas around the world.

You would think that the distinction of the busiest airport is between the most populous cities and international intersections – Tokyo or Dubai or London, perhaps – or at least a large metro area in the United States.

But it turns out that there are some good reasons why the big one doesn’t get much better when it comes to the world’s busiest airport.

How Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport topped it and maintained it for so long is an interesting look at the crossroads of long-term leadership success and geographical prosperity.

CNN Travel Lori Giro, a professor of civil engineering at Georgia Tech, was asked what factors helped Atlanta, with its aviation expertise.

Born from Speedway.

If you build it, it will come.

He starred in Kevin Costner’s 1989 “Field of Dreams” and the concept worked well for some Atlanta leaders in the early 1900’s, long before the hit movie.

“I actually think the No. 1 factor is the state’s commitment to supporting the local community and attracting airlines from the 1920s,” Giro said in a recent phone interview.

He noted that the airport was started when Coca-Cola was the founder. Asa Kendler donated land. On which the derelict Atlanta Speedway landed with the intention of building an airport.

“So from the beginning, I think business leaders in the state have realized the importance of the aviation economy.”

William Hartsfield, City Elderman, and finally Mayor. Guerrero said that until the 1920s, Hartsfield was a strong supporter of investing in airports, taking lessons from how the railroad has benefited the city and the state.

Long term commitment

Passengers wait in the boarding area of ​​one of the new airport concourse after the air traffic controllers went on strike on Monday, August 3, 1981.

Passengers wait in the boarding area of ​​one of the new airport concourse after the air traffic controllers went on strike on Monday, August 3, 1981.

Eric Marapodi / CNN

The push began in the 1920s with what Guerrero said was a series of major improvements every 20 years:

40 1940s: In World War II, the airport’s two main carriers, the Eastern and the Delta, He left his plane. Focused on the military and training pilots and mechanics. “It simply came to our notice then. [the airport] In terms of takeoff and landing, this is what really made Atlanta the busiest airport in the United States, “he said.

• 1960s: The airport opened a modern, jet age terminal in 1961. Giro said it was the first terminal built exclusively for jet aircraft, and was the largest passenger terminal in the country at the time.

• 1980s: Less than 20 years later, the Jet Age terminal was demolished and a new passenger terminal was built “with the same concourse structure we have today. When it was built in 1980, it was the world’s largest. Was the largest, “said Giro. At the time, Mayor Maynard Jackson was a strong supporter of the effort. (The airport has undergone many name changes in its life. Current name, Hartsfield-Jackson, Given in 2003. To honor these two former mayors and airport champions.)

Room to grow

The new runway opened on April 28, 2006 at the heart of Hartsfield Jackson International Airport.

The new runway opened on April 28, 2006 at the heart of Hartsfield Jackson International Airport.

Alberto Reva / Bloomberg / Getty Images

Fortunately, people with the right ideas were in the right place. It turned out that Atlanta was fertile ground for flying. For one thing, there was scope to expand the airport.

The city was established about 10 miles south of Atlanta – large enough to serve the city center but large enough to grow as needed. The land around the airport is one of them. A few relatively flat areas In an area marked mostly by mountainous terrain.
Giro compares it to the densely populated New York City, which is surrounded by water. There is no room for growth in their airports. LaGuardia, for example, is already partially built on landfill and is to be built. Dealing with coastal floods. Inland and at an altitude of over 1,000 feet (305 m), Hartsfield-Jackson does not face these concerns.

And it’s not just space on earth that matters. “Space on Earth and in the air can be thought of,” Giro said.

Using the New York area again as an example, the three major airports serve a densely populated area, and there are barriers to air space.

“They are limited to the number of takeoffs and landings they can do,” he said. They should coordinate takeoff and landing so as not to interfere with other airports.

There is no such problem in Atlanta.

‘Southern powerhouse’

Picture of a Hartsfield-Jackson terminal in April 2019.  The airport does not need to divert traffic from any other major metro area.  This helps to increase the number.

Picture of a Hartsfield-Jackson terminal in April 2019. The airport does not need to divert traffic from any other major metro area. This helps to increase the number.

Marcus Menka / picture-alliance / dpa / AP

Another advantage of Hartsfield-Jackson: No local competition.

“As cities get bigger, in general, they have more than one airport that serves them. … So Atlanta is quite unique in that respect. I like to say that. That is the ‘powerhouse of the South.’ ”

This is not the case in Chicago, which has O’Hare – and Midway. Or in Beijing, where Beijing Capital International has often been the world’s No. 2 busiest airport, recently, when the new Dexing International Airport added to the passenger load.

In Texas, take the world’s 2nd busiest airport in 2021, Dallas / Fort Worth International (DFW). In 2021, it had 62,465,756 passengers. It was well behind Hartfield-Jackson’s 75,704,760 passengers.

But the metro has the second busiest airport – Dallas-Leufield, which handled 13,315,498 passengers in 2021. Combine these two Texas airports together and you’ll find 75,781,254 – leaving Atlanta behind a relative Simdgen (76,494).

Also, Hartsfield-Jackson has a large “catchment area” in which competing airports are far away, Giro said. (A catchment area is the radius around the airport from which it can expect to attract commercial airline passengers).

Major airports such as Nashville and Charlotte are about 250 miles (400 kilometers) away – far enough to provide much in the way of competition.

“So people drive long distances. Use Atlanta because there really is no other viable airport in the area, “said Giro.

Atlanta is a lovely place. That’s 80 percent of the American population within a two-hour flight. According to the airportBut it is also not jammed near other major metro areas.

Delta effect

The fortunes and successes of Delta Airlines and Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport are closely linked.

The fortunes and successes of Delta Airlines and Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport are closely linked.

David Goldman / AP

Having Delta Airlines global headquarters in Atlanta is also an advantage.

“I see Delta’s innovations as a local carrier in the region that … to promote or maintain Atlanta as the No. 1 airport,” Giro said.

Delta was that career in 1955. Hub made and spoke. Networks were therefore the invention of this concept – using interpreters to bring all these passengers to one center, they were allowed to move to other destinations.

Development also helped. Through the merger, Delta Airlines can expand internationally.

“They have a lot in common with international carriers that help them build an international network and help bring travelers back to Atlanta as a gateway to another trip to the United States, or On the contrary, take people from many places in the United States, filter them through Atlanta and then go international. ”

Other factors

Passengers prepare to board a Marta subway train at the airport in 2010.  Direct mass transit from city centers to airports can also increase the number of airports.

Passengers prepare to board a Marta subway train at the airport in 2010. Direct mass transit from city centers to airports can also increase the number of airports.

Sandy Huffker / Corbus / Getty Images

Guerrero said that although the airport’s reputation is a hub of passing traffic, it doesn’t hurt that Atlanta is a major convention, business and tourism lottery.

And when people arrive, they have direct access to key areas of the city through the Marta system. One line goes directly to the airport.

“Historically, airports that have provided smooth connectivity between airports and business centers have done a great job,” Giro said.

What about the weather? Giro doesn’t think it helps much. It can be beneficial in winter which does not have much snow and ice but in summer it is balanced with thunder and lightning.

Crystal ball

According to Georgia Tech's Lori Giro, local air taxis could be part of the future of Hartsfield-Jackson.

According to Georgia Tech’s Lori Giro, local air taxis could be part of the future of Hartsfield-Jackson.

Marcus Manka / picture-alliance / dpa / AP

Gero said it is important for Georgia to maintain its No. 1 airport status because it helps attract business.

But can the airport continue its rule? After all, things are changing, and there are some real aviation innovators out there, especially in the Middle East and Asia.

“In the short term, I think we’re going to retain our position or be close to the top. And part of that is that in the revival of the Quaid, the markets are coming back differently. Is stronger than other regions of the world. ”

What about more in the future? Well, Giro believes the airport could be a good place for new inventions, such as local air taxi services.

“As advances have been made with electric batteries and hydrogen technologies, we can see a future where people on the outskirts of the metro area actually take a very small passenger plane to the airport and get there very fast,” he said. ۔

Hartsfield-Jackson’s design could help him win again. Giro said its runways align from east to west, but the Atlanta Metro’s population centers run from north to south.

This arrangement means that air taxis can arrive more easily without potentially getting in the way of larger aircraft.

Top Image: Hartsfield-Jackson Tower. (Marx Manka / picture-alliance / dpa / AP)

The first version of this feature incorrectly describes the year in which “Field of Dreams” was released. It has been republished with the correct year.



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