Operators control plane movements on the airfield in Atlanta. Photo: Trevor Williams

Atlanta’s marketers try to ensure everyone knows the city’s airport is the busiest on the planet, but far fewer know that it’s also the world’s most efficient.  

The Air Transport Research Society determined at a virtual award ceremony in early July that Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport can wear that mantle for the 17th straight year.  

The society, a Maryland-based group that brings together global researchers, ranks 204 airports and 24 ownership groups around the world based on an equation taking into account their flight operations, passenger volumes, non-aeronautical revenues and cargo outputs based on their labor and non-capital inputs. It then announces winners in various size categories across Europe, Asia and North America.   

Atlanta has stayed remarkably resilient on the list, even as the makeup of the top 10 has changed dramatically since the first rankings were revealed in 2000, when ATL took the top slot hosting just 80 million passengers. In 2019, its passenger volume was 110 million.  

Hartsfield-Jackson General Manager John Selden has said the airport was likely on pace to beat that record earlier this year before the bottom fell out of the aviation market amid the coronavirus pandemic.  

“Excellence and efficiency have always been the standard at Hartsfield-Jackson,” said Mr. Selden in a news release. “I see it every day throughout our facility. Using whatever metric you wish, from empirical to anecdotal, our team does an outstanding job and is most worthy of this distinguished honor.”

In announcing the winners, the ATRS hinted that efficient airports like Atlanta are poised to bounce back more quickly from the pandemic.  

The Airport Performance Benchmarking Report is produced by Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University’s business school in partnership with ATRS and includes 600 pages of data and analysis.

Top large airports (more than 40 million annual passengers) globally included Hartsfield-Jackson, Amsterdam Schiphol in Europe and Hong Kong International in Asia. Nashville was a top performer in the 5-15 million-passenger category in North America.

As managing editor of Global Atlanta, Trevor has spent 15+ years reporting on Atlanta’s ties with the world. An avid traveler, he has undertaken trips to 30+ countries to uncover stories on the perils...