He pointed to the fact that Frankfurt Airport in Germany has more than 13,000 employees on staff to handle 60 million passengers, while the Atlanta airport moves more than 90 million per year with less than 1,000 employees on its payroll, despite having more than 50,000 people working at the airport for airlines and other companies.
Atlanta also relies less directly on planes than many of its competitors.
Atlanta's ratio of non-aviation revenues from sources like parking, concessions and office rentals is 63 percent, compared to the 50 percent average among North American airports, according to the study.
One key ingredient to that mix is low landing fees, which entice carriers and their passengers, who in turn park their cars at the airport and become customers at food and retail outlets.
"Many of these things are managerial issues, how they set it up, and respond to customer demand," Dr. Oum said.
He added that the results don't seem tied to the type of ownership. It's less about whether the airports are public or private and more about how much flexibility the authorities have to respond to market demand. Atlanta's airport is a city entity but operates from its own independent fund.
Hartsfield-Jackson also was named most efficient among 77 North American airports with more than 15 million passengers, followed by Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport and Charlotte Douglas International AIrport.
Among those with fewer than 15 million passengers, Oklahoma City World Airport reigned supreme, followed by Richmond International Airport in Virginia and Raleigh-Durham International Airport.
In Asia, Korean airports took the top two slots: Seoul-Gimpo International Airport followed by Incheon International Airport. Guam International Airport was No. 3 in the region.
In Europe, Copenhagen Kastrup International Airport was No. 1 among large airports, followed by Athens International Airport in Greece and Zurich Airport in Switzerland.