The rise of the aerotropolis

Dr John D. Kasarda tells us that “airports will shape business location and urban development in the 21st century as much as highways did in the 20th century, railroads in the 19th and seaports in the 18th.” If you haven’t come across the term aerotropolis before, this is what is meant by it. 

The aerotropolis or airport city reconsiders the airport being positioned far beyond the city centre – and being just a destination for air travel. Instead, the concept embraces the idea that the airport itself will become an economic hub and driver of revenue, job creation and infrastructure. And it’s already happening – 2019 saw non-aeronautical revenues contributing around 40% to overall airport revenues globally, with the value of non-aeronautical activities  roughly calculated at over $70 billion.

So what has prompted the move from airport to aerotropolis? 

Air travel takes off

Air travel has become increasingly popular in the last two decades, soaring from 23.8 million flights in 2004 to 38.9 million in 2019. And while the outbreak of Covid in 2020 knocked these numbers significantly, there’s no doubt they will soar beyond these figures in the future. More flights mean more passengers and with billions of travellers passing through airports each year, it’s no wonder that airport terminals have expanded their range of facilities and services to include everything from shops, restaurants and hotels to convention centres, medical centres, cinemas and even theme parks. 

One airport that extends its offering well beyond the realms of air travel is Changi Airport in Singapore. In October 2019, the expansive Asia-Pacific transportation hub opened Jewel – a forest-themed entertainment destination that includes indoor gardens, the world’s tallest indoor waterfall, a giant trampoline, mazes, a hotel, and hundreds of shops and restaurants. Just six months after its ‘soft’ opening, Jewel had already welcomed a staggering 50 million visitors.

Global connectivity

According to Kasada, “Airports are not just trade facilitators; they are trade creators by quickly connecting businesspeople and high-value, time-critical products to distant customers and markets.” In other words, being within close proximity of an airport provides a competitive advantage for businesses looking to connect quickly with international markets. The result is that more and more businesses are seeing the benefits of building factories and warehouses closer to airports. 

The aerotropolis in action

Dallas Fort Worth Airport is located midway between Dallas and Fort Worth and covers an impressive 78 km2. In addition to the airport, which directly links travellers and businesses with most US and international destinations, this thriving aerotropolis includes hotels, office space, warehouses, a golf course and more. 

Dallas Fort Worth Airport is a first-class example of the economic value an aerotropolis can bring to an area – in this case, North Texas. According to one study: 

  • Business activities in the DFW Metro Area supported by air cargo moving through DFW Airport generate $16.7 billion in total annual economic activity. 
  • Recurring operations at DFW Airport directly or indirectly generate $31.6 billion in regional economic activity and support over 143,000 jobs in the DFW Metro Area. 
  • Visitor spending for concessions and travel related expenses boost state and local tax revenues by an additional $115 million each year. 


Aerotropolis of the future

Set for completion in the mid-2020s, the Taoyuan Aerotropolis project, which was officially launched in 2018, is, according to the American Chamber of Commerce Taiwan, “moving forward to spur momentum of an “airport city economy” and help drive Taiwan’s economic resurgence.”

The project, which is expected to attract total investment of around US$16.4 billion, is estimated to create between 200 000 and 300 000 new jobs and generate annual revenues in the region of US$75.4 billion. Once completed, the Taoyuan Aerotropolis will include a broad range of services including financial, medical and logistical as well as accommodation, entertainment venues, and conference facilities. The plan also includes another runway and terminal building, which will increase the airport’s current capacity of 40 million passengers per year to 60 million passengers by 2025.

Are you looking for an engineering partner to build your next aerotropolis?

Lithon’s multi-disciplinary engineering team has the expertise to cover all your aerotropolis needs with an extensive range of services that includes Transportation and Airports, Civil, Electrical, Industrial, Mechanical and Structural engineering, Studies and Project Management. Our dynamic and highly qualified specialists leverage a diverse skill set to offer an end-to-end solution, covering everything from consultation, conceptualisation and research to seamless project management and efficient execution. We’d love to partner with you on your next project.