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Mega-airports under development

Picture of Matthew Horsman

Matthew Horsman

Caterpillar Malaga DLC


Airports are without doubt one of the most singular pieces of infrastructure in a country or city. They are the place where somebody visiting a country for the first time has their first impression of a new place. They are also the last thing a person will remember when they leave. In many cases the airport will be one of the lasting memories a person has of a country or city they visit and may even sometimes be a deciding factor in whether they return or not.

Competition for the crown of the world’s biggest airport is really starting to heat up.

Airport operators and governments alike are realising this fact and in recent years we have seen many countries embark on ambitious plans to build the biggest and best airport in the world. For many it’s all about hitting that elusive 100 million passengers per year figure, for others it’s all about having the largest, most elaborate terminal building designed by the most prestigious architect. Whatever the reason, a number of nations are currently flexing their muscles and either planning, or already building new, ultra-modern hub airports, vying for the coveted title of the biggest or best airport in the world.

In this article I am going to outline a few of the most talked about, both under construction and in the pipeline. They are spread across many of the continents, with some even in locations you wouldn’t expect. There are of course many more, but I have tried to concentrate of some of the biggest greenfield or dramatic expansion projects.


NAICM – New Mexico City International Airport

This is one of the most talked about projects at the moment. Designed by esteemed British architect Sir Norman Foster in partnership with Mexican architect Fernando Romero. The terminal design building represents an eagle with its wings spread, which is one of México’s national symbols.

Most of the planning and design has already been completed, and preliminary construction work is already underway. A lot of the major construction tenders have also either already been awarded or are currently underway too. This $10 billion airport is scheduled to be completed and fully operational by early 2019 and will handle 50 million passengers per year in its first phase. It will be subject to additional phases of expansion in 2028 and then in 2062 and will eventually feature six runways capable of an impressive 120 million passenger annually.


Istanbul Grand – Turkey

Along with NAICM, this is another of the most ambitious projects currently underway. With the aim of consolidating Istanbul as a pivotal aviation hub and the most important link between Europe and Asia, IGA are pulling out all the stops to get this airport up and running in record time. When the first phase of five has been finished, by the end of 2018 according to the current schedule, this new airport will serve up to 90 million passengers in a 1.3 million m2 terminal building and will have three runways. By the end of all phases the airport should be able to handle 200 million passengers per year and will have six parallel runways. An ambitious task to say the least.


Beijing Daxing – China

This is another greenfield airport project currently under construction, designed to alleviate the current airport which is struggling to meet demand. This project is scheduled to be operational in its first phase by 2019 and will handle at least 70 million passengers per year. Further planned phases will allow the airport to be expanded to handle 130 million passengers with eight runways and a terminal building featuring a six-pronged traditional Chinese aesthetic shape designed by the prestigious Zaha Hadid Architects studio.


Al Maktoum Dubai World Central

Of course it wouldn’t be right if we didn’t see a Middle East airport jockeying for a position in the mega hub race. Dubai International Airport currently holds the top spot in terms of annual international passenger traffic (knocking the crown off long time front runner London Heathrow in 2015), however plans to dramtically expand nearby Al Maktoum into a world beating international hub are well underway. This airport originally opened in 2010 destined principally for cargo operation, however it is now subject to a number of phases of expansion with tenders and projects already underway. Its final estimated capacity will be around 160 million passengers per year. As with many of the current large hub projects, it is also part of a wider airport city development aimed at attracting business and investment to the area.


New Addis Ababa International Airport

Africa is also in the race for the newest hub airport too it seems. Ethiopia’s transport ministry is currently finalising plans to start building a new airport for the capital Addis Ababa. With an estimated construction timeframe of eight years and a cost of around $4 billion, this project is set to transform the region and place the city of Addis Ababa firmly on the world air transport map. With the current airport stretched, the new four runway facility will comfortably resolve this issue, being able to handle up to 120 million passengers per year. It also feature planning for an associated airport mega city to further boost income in the region.


Europe 1 – Italy

Out of all the airport projects mentioned, this is perhaps the one at the earliest stage of development, but it is most certainly worth keeping an eye on. A Chinese investment firm is leading a consortium of private investors whose mission is to build a $15 billion hub airport in northern Italy. The project, at the moment called Europe 1, is for a brand new greenfield hub airport capable of handling, yes you guessed it, 100 million passengers per year (there’s that elusive number again!). Sources also say that this innovative project will even feature a spaceport which is being designed by the world class architecture studio luis vidal + architects. Definitely one to watch out for.


And there we have a few of the most notable airport projects that are in the pipeline. That said however, we will most certainly see more new hub projects of this type coming up over the next few months. But one thing is certain: competition for the crown of the world’s biggest airport is really starting to heat up, and within a few short years we may well have a new champion. The question is, how long will one of these contenders remain champion until something bigger and better is built?


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