Air transportation is a popular form of travel in the United States and a thriving industry in the Atlanta metropolitan area, primarily Fulton County. Fulton County’s employment concentration for air transportation is higher than any other industry, and pays higher wages than the Fulton County average for all private industry. A major reason for the prominence of air transportation within Fulton County is that it houses the world’s busiest airport, Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International. Overall, the airport serves more than 150 domestic destinations and 80 international destinations in 52 countries, along with being the state of Georgia’s largest employer. It has been the world’s busiest passenger airport since 1998 and the world’s busiest operations airport since 2005. The local air transportation industry has faced several significant challenges over a recent 20-year period (1990–2010) including the interplay of rising fuel costs, the 9/11 attacks, and fewer passengers due to three economic recessions. These events have contributed to numerous airline bankruptcies and consolidations, which have reshaped the industry. Meanwhile, airport improvements at Hartsfield-Jackson have greatly improved efficiency.
This issue of BEYOND THE NUMBERS uses data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages (QCEW) for the air transportation industry to compare employment in Fulton County, Georgia, (Hartsfield-Jackson Airport), with employment in Cook County, Illinois, (O’Hare International Airport), and Los Angeles County, California, (Los Angeles International Airport). After Fulton County, Cook and Los Angeles Counties housed the next busiest airports in the United States. This article compares total passengers and aircraft operations among the busiest airports in the United States using data from Airports Council International.