Atlanta airport increases lead as world's busiest

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WASHINGTON -- Atlanta is increasing its lead as the busiest airport in the world, according to the Airports Council International-North America (ACI-NA).

The number of passengers using Atlanta's airport increased 1.3%, to 76.9 million, in 2002, according to new data for calendar year 2002. Chicago's O'Hare, meanwhile, saw its traffic number dip 1.3%, to 66.5 million, and was second in the rankings.

The busiest airport outside the U.S., London Heathrow, was third behind Atlanta and O'Hare in the worldwide rankings, with 63.3 million passengers. That was 4.3% more than the year before.

Overall, the ACI-NA counted more than 1.3 billion passengers passing through the world's airports in 2002. That's 2.6% fewer than the year before -- no surprise given the aftermath of 9/11, including airline bankruptcies and worldwide economic woes.

But, with the end of the Iraq War and the abatement of SARS, there are signs of a travel rebound. For the 12-month period ending April 30, North American airports experienced a 1% growth in passenger traffic. And passenger traffic during the first four months of this year remained unchanged when compared with the same time period in 2001, the ACI-NA said.

"Well into the travel season for this year, the good news is that recent figures are promising and are a clear indication that passenger traffic is rebounding," ACI-NA President David Plavin said.

Digging deeper into the rankings reveals some changes over the past 10 years in the top 10 U.S. airports.

Comparing 2002 with 1992, Phoenix's ranking jumped from 14th to sixth, Las Vegas from 17th to seventh, and Houston from 19th to eighth.

Over the same time span, San Francisco dropped from fifth to 11th, New York (Kennedy) from seventh to 13th, Miami from eighth to 12th, Newark from ninth to 14th, and Boston from 10th to 21st.

To contact reporter Andrew Compart, send e-mail to [email protected].

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