updated 1/2/2004 8:10:45 PM ET 2004-01-03T01:10:45

There hasn't been a competition between Chicago and Atlanta this fierce since the Cubs beat the Braves in the baseball playoffs. Chicago is claiming victory again in having the world's busiest airport, but Atlanta is saying, "Not so fast."

The perennial rivalry is a game of definitions and numbers on which even the experts don't agree.

Chicago's O'Hare International Airport had the most takeoffs and landings in 2003 -- 928,735 according to the National Air Traffic Controllers Association, or 931,000 according to the Federal Aviation Administration.

But Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport is projected to have the most passengers with 58,875,694 through September, the latest numbers available.

"We don't have a World Series of airports," said Hartsfield-Jackson spokesman Robert Kennedy. "If you do cargo, you could probably throw Memphis in there, too."

Memphis International Airport, hub for shipping giant FedEx Corp., had the most loaded and unloaded freight and mail go through it with 2,494,190 metric tons through September, according to industry tracker Airports Council International.

O'Hare spokeswoman Monique Bond downplayed the rivalry, but insisted O'Hare is the world's busiest airport.

"It's one of those lighthearted competitions, so to speak, that people always look to at the end of the year," Bond said.

FAA spokesman William Shumann said takeoffs and landings as well as passengers are both valid measures for determining which airport is the world's busiest. That, he said, can make the annual title elusive. While airports love the title for marketing and prestige, there also could be a downside, Shumann said.

"As a passenger you might get through the airport with no trouble because there aren't a lot of people and the plane pushes back on time, but unfortunately there are 10 planes waiting to take off in front of you," Shumann said. "So it plays both ways."

Copyright 2004 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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