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6 of the World’s Busiest Airports With Just a Single Runway

By Bradley O'Neill
Read time: 4 minutes

When you consider the sheer volume of flights that arrive and depart from major international airports each day, it seems logical that they utilize multiple runways. For example, Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport and Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport (two of the world’s busiest airports) have eight and seven runways, respectively. Nevertheless, airports with just a single landing strip are also capable of handling millions of annual passengers. Check out six of the busiest around the world with a single runway. 

San Diego International Airport (SAN) – California

Aircraft queuing on runway at San Diego International Airport
Credit: joseph s giacalone/ Alamy Stock Photo

Formerly called Lindbergh Field, San Diego International Airport features only one 9,401-foot-long runway, making it the busiest single-runway airport in the U.S. A record-breaking 25.2 million passengers used the airport in 2019, and while the numbers dropped considerably during the pandemic, they rebounded to 24.06 million passengers in 2022. 

The landing approach here is famous for how close jets get to the skyscrapers of downtown San Diego, and because of its urban location, the airport can’t build any additional runways. Around the terminals, though, the Arts Program strives to keep travelers in a zen-like frame of mind through rotating exhibitions and performing arts events. 

Fukuoka Airport (FUK) – Fukuoka, Japan

Aircraft parked at Fukuoka Airport terminal
Credit: Boaz Rottem/ Alamy Stock Photo

Established as a military airfield in 1944, Fukuoka Airport serves as a major gateway to Japan’s Kyushu Island. The airport features three sleek and modern terminals alongside a single, 9,186-foot-long runway. In 2023, 24.6 million passengers transited through the airport via 180,000 aircraft movements, making it the fourth-busiest airport in Japan

Among Fukuoka Airport’s notable passenger features is a collection of observation decks that offer uninterrupted views of planes as they take off and land. One is located on the fourth floor of the International Passenger Terminal Building, while the other, in the Domestic Passenger Terminal Building, is an open-air viewing platform.

Urumqi Diwopu International Airport (URC) – Urumqi, China

Aerial view of terminal at Urumqi Diwopu International Airport in China
Credit: HECTOR RETAMAL/ AFP via Getty Images

At the end of 2023, China reported five single-runway airports that received over 20 million passengers throughout the year. Handling more than 25.08 million passengers and nearly 500 daily takeoffs and landings, Urumqi Diwopu International Airport is the busiest of these airports. 

Urumqi Diwopu serves the desert and mountainous northwestern Xinjiang region, which is at the heart of the Silk Road Economic Belt. In order to cope with Xinjiang’s continual rise in tourism and commercial activities, the airport is undergoing an expansion program. It will include a new terminal and two additional runways to handle the expected increase in traffic to 48 million annual passengers. 

London Stansted International Airport (STN) – United Kingdom

Exterior of terminal building at London Stansted International Airport
Credit: Simon Turner/ Alamy Stock Photo

Created to ease the pressure on London’s Gatwick and Heathrow airports, London Stansted International Airport is the fourth-busiest airport in the United Kingdom. It occupies an airfield built by the U.S. Air Force during World War II, and has a single 10,000-foot runway. Connecting to over 200 destinations across more than 40 countries, Stansted has the largest European network of any U.K. airport, as it’s one of the main hubs for low-cost giant Ryanair. In 2023, 27.96 million passengers used the airport.

London Gatwick International AIrport (LGW) United Kingdom

Aircraft parked at gates at London Gatwick Airport in the United Kingdom
Credit: Peter Titmuss/ Alamy Stock Photo

London’s Gatwick Airport is the second-busiest airport in the U.K. and the busiest single-runway facility in Europe. Opened in 1958, it registered 41 million passenger visits and 253,000 aircraft movements in 2023. Gatwick technically has two runways, but they are too close to each other to permit simultaneous operations. Consequently, the airport falls into the single-runway category. 

The majority of planes take off and land at Gatwick using the 10,879-foot Main Runway, while the Northern Runway (8,415 feet) is typically used as a taxiway. Plans are in place to move the Northern Runway by roughly 39 feet to meet global standards for dual-runway activity. In addition to its air travel options, Gatwick has one of Europe’s most extensive rail links, with direct service to 120 stations. 

Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj International Airport (BOM) Mumbai, India

Modern terminal design of Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj International Airport in Mumbai, India
Credit: Parvesh Jain/ Alamy Stock Photo

Similar to Gatwick, Mumbai’s Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj International Airport has two runways but is classed as a single-strip facility. Here, the two strips (11,302 feet and 9,810 feet long) intersect each other to create an “X” shape. This formation means that the runways can’t be used in parallel. However, with the ability to take off and land in any direction, regardless of wind direction, Mumbai’s airport can still handle significant traffic volumes. 

In 2023, 51.58 million passengers used this airport in India’s most-populous city. Not just a busy transit terminal, the airport is also a striking work of modern architecture and engineering. Terminal 2’s design is inspired by a traditional Indian pavilion. Its 753,474-square-foot roof is supported by 30 columns and is one of the world’s largest roofs without an expansion joint. 

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