Partner Series
What's the World's Largest Airport?
Commerical planes are hit by lightning about once a year, by some estimates.
Credit: Dreamstime

Surprise! The world’s largest commercial airport is probably not one you’d recognize. It’s Riyadh’s King Khalid International Airport (RUH), at a massive 484-square miles in Saudi Arabia.

Looking for the busiest airport? That distinction goes to Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson airport, with more than 970,000 aircraft movements (that means takeoffs and landings) per year. And the busiest single-runway airport is London’s Gatwick International.

But when it comes to sheer size, Saudi Arabia’s King Khalid Airport has everyone else beat. More than three times the size of Washington, D.C., the airport has four terminals and two runways spanning 13,780 feet. Even the landscaping is immense: it has more than 225,000 trees on the property – all selected to be drought- and heat-tolerant. Date palms, firs, and citrus trees are raised in the airport’s own nursery and irrigated with underground drip lines. The airport has parking for 11,600 vehicles. There is also a Royal Terminal, to be used exclusively by the Saudi Royal family and their VIPs.  

There is also a mosque that can accommodate up to 5,000 worshipers at one time — and another 5,000 in the plaza outside. It was designed to be the first structure passengers see as they leave the arrivals area. The mosque’s dome is 108 feet in diameter and towers 130 feet above the arrivals level — higher than all of the other structures in the passenger complex except for the airport’s control tower and minaret. Inside, 1008 bronze panels are fitted into the dome, above a ring of decorative mosaic tiles inscribed with passages from the Koran. A giant chandelier hangs in the center of the dome.

Most of the airport’s actual land area is undeveloped; it can be expanded at any time to use the rest of the gargantuan space. It was also designated as an alternate landing site for NASA’s Space Shuttle.