Image: Beijing Capital International Airport
Andy Wong  /  AP
A plane carrying Russian President Dmitry Medvedev arrives in Beijing last year. Beijing Capital International Airport is the world's second-busiest airport, overtaking London's Heathrow.
updated 3/15/2011 10:13:38 AM ET 2011-03-15T14:13:38

Beijing's airport now trails only Atlanta's hub as the world's busiest thanks to a surge in demand in fast-growing Asian economies, an industry association said Tuesday.

Beijing Capital International Airport and Chicago's O'Hare, which leapt to the third spot, both overtook London Heathrow, which slipped to fourth, according to a report on world traffic growth released by Airports Council International.

Last year "underscored the resilience of the air transport business and resulted in over five billion passengers for the first time ever," ACI Director General Angela Gibbons said.

While North America and Europe continued to struggle to reach pre-crisis levels, the Middle East and Asia Pacific sustained strong momentum and gained market share through double-digit growth, Gibbons said.

The umbrella body, which groups 1,650 airports in 179 countries and territories, said world passenger traffic rose 6.3 percent in 2010 and cargo traffic jumped 15.2 percent. Heathrow and Las Vegas were the only airports among the world's 30 largest where traffic decreased in 2010.

Douglas International, in Charlotte, North Carolina, was the only large airport outside Asia-Pacific and the Middle East where traffic grew more than 10 percent. Beijing grew by 13 percent.

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In North America, a slow economic recovery and a reluctance by airlines to add more capacity resulted in modest 2.4 percent growth. Europe registered a slightly higher growth rate of 4.3 percent despite a setback last April caused by a volcanic ash cloud.

In contrast, Asia-Pacific and the Middle East benefited from sharp rises in passenger numbers, which drove growth to 11.5 percent in both regions, the report said.

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