Inaugural report into world’s most valuable airport brands ranks Heathrow top of its league, but Dubai’s omission from the Top 25 suggests the criteria may need fine tuning

12 June, 2019

The so-called world's top airport 'brands' have been identified by Brand Finance with the release this week of its inaugural report into the most valuable and strongest airport 'brands'. But, like all rankings the rationale for its findings is a little unclear with the world's 'Top 25' airport brands reading like a list of major hub airports, but with some significant omissions.

There are several definitions of the word brand including 'a particular identity or image regarded as an asset.' Of course just about everything is a brand now, from washing powders to pop groups to Premier League footballers and image is everything. Some people and entities are better known for their image than what they actually do.

It goes without saying that airports that top this list are going to be globally known, with big revenues, and their identifying features are going to be publicly acknowledgeable ones such as aesthetic appeal and their range of shopping facilities. These are the sort of things that get them selected as 'airport of the year' in glossy business magazines rather than for getting passengers speedily and efficiently on their way without undue stress.

The report goes out of its way to highlight it used a variety of metrics such as service quality, customer reviews and ratings, airport capacity, number of destinations, investment and utilisation to measure the value and strength of airport brands around the world.

[perfectpullquote align="full" bordertop="false" cite="" link="" color="" class="" size=""]"The most valuable airport brands are those that manage to meet the demands of discerning business travellers and frequent fliers, as well as providing a comfortable and well-equipped environment to accommodate for a family embarking on their annual summer holidays."
Savio D'Souza, director of aviation, Brand Finance[/perfectpullquote]

It is perhaps of no surprise that London Heathrow was the highest rated airport brand financially, and 'valued' at USD919 million though its Brand Strength Index (BSI) is only the fifth highest. While an improved Heathrow, the world's second busiest international airport, would have scored highly on intangibles such as service quality, and indeed on investment (though that wasn't always the case) it cannot be measured so favourably on capacity, when its runways are 98% full most of the time and likely to stay that way for another 10 years.

Singapore's Changi airport was the strongest and second most valuable airport brand, with a BSI score of 86.90 out of 100, the highest of the top 10, and a value of USD754 million. That is not that far off Heathrow's value rating despite the fact that it handles 15 million passengers less than the London gateway. But Singapore's capacity provision is strong, with three full-length runways, a recently opened terminal and another already planned to handle 50 million ppa.

You can't help but wonder though to what extent Singapore's massive shopping and dining experience, green oases and butterfly gardens, and its propensity to win awards such as Skytrax, had to do with its rating.

Four Chinese airports - Shanghai Pudong, Hong Kong International, Beijing Capital International and Guangzhou Baiyun International - featured within the top 25 list. Again, capacity rears its ugly head in the case of Hong Kong, where a third runway is needed but which was fought hard by environmentalists and Beijing where a second airport is scheduled to open shortly.

TABLE - The world's 25 most valuable airport brands is dominated by the world's major hubsSource: Brand Finance Airports 25 2019

Five US airports make the top 25 - Los Angeles International, New York JFK, Dallas Fort Worth, San Francisco International and Chicago O'Hare International. Are these token gestures? Some of them are capacity-constrained and in the words of many eminent people even of "Third World" standard. But that may be a little unfair to some of them at least, where considerable investment has been or is being made.

One is tempted again to ponder if these big city airports are included simply because they are located in big cities. Where, for example, is Orlando International, one of the most sustainably pleasing on the eye to be found anywhere?

Similarly missing in Europe, Oslo Gardermoen, an excellent example of how to connect a brand new terminal seamlessly into an old one, and sustainably, in what is one of the world's leading countries for insisting the environment figures in every aspect of aviation. On a similar theme India's Cochin International, the first to be self-sustaining in its own power provision, using solar panels. Should sustainability not be part of 'brand assessment' criteria?

One airport that is missing from the Top 25 list that stands out like a sore thumb is Dubai International. The world's third busiest, and busiest international, airport is conspicuous by its absence despite representing a major global finance, trade and tourist destination, being a modern facility, and with many destinations, solid investment, generally favourable reviews and, except when one of its runways is closed, adequate capacity.

Is it any less brand-iconic than Bangkok Suvarnabhumi or Toronto Pearson airports? In fact, there are no Middle East airports in the list at all. Does that part of the world simply lack airport brand awareness? It is hard to believe when a carrier such as Emirates Airline is one of the most widely recognised brands in the world!