For many people, commercial aviation is an industry where size matters. Indeed, you don’t have to be at an airport for very long to see that the (admittedly increasingly rare) sight of an Airbus A380 or Boeing 747 turns more heads than most aircraft. But what about the largest airports in the world? Here’s a rundown of the biggest one on each continent.
Asia – Dammam King Fahd International, Saudi Arabia
The Saudi Arabian city of Dammam is the home of Asia’s largest airport. Known as King Fahd International (DMM), this facility is, in fact, the largest airport in the world by surface area. It measures 776 square kilometers (300 square miles), although its actual terminal building is comparatively small at ‘just’ 36.75 square kilometers (14.19 square miles).
A reported 10 million passengers pass through Dammam every year. This means that, despite its impressive size, King Fahd International actually only ranks third in Saudi Arabia in terms of passenger numbers (behind Jeddah and Riyadh). Its busiest route serves Dubai. This key UAE destination sees around 70 flights a week from Dammam.
The airport’s two runways are suitably large, each clocking in at 4,000 meters long. It opened in 1991 as a US airbase during the Gulf War. However, since November 1999, it has played a commercial role, and now sits proudly atop the largest airport rankings for both Asia and the world as a whole. Dammam’s old Dhahran Airport is now a Saudi airbase.
North America – Denver International, USA
According to AeroTime, the second-largest airport in the world by surface area, and the largest in North America, is Denver International (DEN) in the US state of Colorado. It measures 135.7 square kilometers (52.4 square miles), making it around six times smaller than the colossal King Fahd International despite being the world’s second-largest airport.
Part of the reason for Denver’s size is its larger-than-average runways. The lengthiest of these is 4,877 meters long, and is necessary owing to the airport’s higher altitude. Being located around 1.6 km (1 mile) above sea level, the lower air density requires greater true airspeed for aircraft to safely take off due to the decreased power output in such conditions.
Denver International Airport opened in February 1995. In doing so, it replaced the city’s old Stapleton International. Today, it is a key hub for ultra-low-cost carrier Frontier and Star Alliance founding member United. It is also a focus city for Southwest Airlines.
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Africa – Cairo International, Egypt
Cairo International Airport (CAI) in Egypt is Africa’s largest airport, with a surface area of 36.3 square km (14 square miles). According to AeroTime, this makes it the ninth-largest airport by surface area in the world as a whole. Cairo is Africa’s second-busiest airport by passenger traffic, behind South Africa’s Johannesburg O. R. Tambo International (JNB).
Cairo International is located in the suburb of Heliopolis, approximately 15 kilometers (9.3 miles) northeast of the Egyptian capital itself. As well as being the base of the country’s flag carrier and Star Alliance member EgyptAir, Cairo is also a hub for Nile Air. This carrier, which is the country’s largest privately-owned airline, primarily serves Saudi Arabian destinations.
Oceania – Alice Springs, Australia
Oceania is home to several key international airports that serve an array of destinations worldwide. These include Sydney and Melbourne in Australia, and Auckland in New Zealand. However, its largest is, in fact, a regional airport that serves Alice Springs in Australia’s Northern Territory. It measures 35.5 square kilometers (13.7 square miles) in area.
The only scheduled flights at Alice Springs (ASP) are domestic services to other destinations within Australia. The airlines that operate these include Airnorth, Alliance Airlines, Qantas, QantasLink, Virgin Australia, and Virgin Australia Regional Airlines.
The airport’s website markets its large surface area as one of its key selling points. It offers development opportunities on-site ranging “from airport and aviation-related activities to camel grazing, horticulture, commercial activities, and light industrial opportunities.” Various airlines have also stored aircraft there during the coronavirus pandemic.
Europe – Paris Charles de Gaulle, France
When it comes to European airports, you might have thought that Amsterdam Schiphol would be the largest. After all, the famous ‘Polderbaan‘ is situated a considerable distance from its terminal. However, Click Travel Tips reports that France’s Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport (CDG) takes the top spot, measuring 32.4 square kilometers (12.5 square miles).
The airport opened in March 1974, and will celebrate its 50th anniversary later in the decade. It serves as a hub for French flag carrier Air France, as well as the airline’s cargo division. Air France Hop, easyJet, FedEx, and Vueling are also among the airlines to have a significant presence. The facility boasts four runways, one more than neighboring Orly Airport’s three.
South America – Buenos Aires Ezeiza International, Argentina
While slightly more difficult to ascertain figures for South American airports, research suggests that the largest airport in this region by surface area is Argentina’s Buenos Aires Ezeiza International (EZE). This airport is also known as Ministro Pistarini International, after Argentine general and politician Juan Pistarini. It began using his name in 1985.
According to Airport Technology, the airport has an area of 34.75 square km (13.42 square miles). Both Aerolíneas Argentinas and local low-cost airline Flybondi have hubs there. It celebrated its 70th anniversary just two years ago, having opened in April 1949. The facility is located 21 meters (67 feet) above sea level, and 22 km (14 mi) from the city center.
How many of these mega airports have you been to? Do you have a particular favorite? Let us know your thoughts and experiences in the comments!