Travel

April 4, 2012

Charlotte’s airport the world’s sixth-busiest? No joke.

Charlotte? The sixth-busiest airport in the world?

Charlotte? The sixth-busiest airport in the world?

It’s true, at least in terms of takeoffs and landings. The Queen City’s airport outranked Beijing, Paris, Frankfurt and London to take the No. 6 slot in 2011, according to data released this week by the Airports Council International.

Charlotte Douglas International Airport handled nearly 540,000 takeoffs and landings over the course of the year, behind five other U.S. airports. Atlanta’s airport – a primary Delta hub – was again the world’s busiest, with about 924,000.

Chicago, Dallas/Fort Worth, Denver and Los Angeles also ranked above Charlotte.

The council’s data mirrors that of the Federal Aviation Administration, and is widely regarded as the authority on such matters.

Does Charlotte Douglas feel like the busiest?

“No, not at all,” airport director Jerry Orr said Wednesday. That’s partly because the airport’s growth has been gradual. Or as Orr put it: “It’s like cooking frogs. When you turn the heat up slowly, you don’t realize it.”

In 2006, Charlotte Douglas stood at No. 11, with about 510,000 take-offs and landings. In the interim, Charlotte’s business community has grown, and US Airways has expanded its presence in its largest hub.

During that period, the airline has increased the average daily number of flights at Charlotte by 22 percent, to about 600 per day.

Of course, you won’t have to fight through as many people at Charlotte Douglas as you would at Heathrow or Charles de Gaulle. Charlotte checks in at No. 25 in terms of passenger traffic, with 39 million going through the terminals in 2011.

Beijing had nearly double that, but the Chinese capital still didn’t outpace Atlanta, which took the top spot with more than 93 million people.

Why did Charlotte rank so high on one list and not the other? Orr points to Charlotte’s “feeder” traffic, meaning smaller or private planes that come from regional airports. An airport like Frankfurt will have fewer planes carrying more people. In Charlotte it’s the other way around.

Charlotte’s No. 6 ranking in takeoffs and landings is up one spot from the year before, and reflects a 2 percent increase. Its passenger ranking remained the same from the year before, but the number grew 2 percent as well.

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