Center for Public Management

What is an Aerotropolis?

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In today’s global economy, aerotropolises are being utilized as focal points of development planning around international airport hubs, resulting in the creation of several aerotropolises around the globe; including Amsterdam, Malaysia, South Korea, China, Australia, Singapore, United Arab Emirates, and the United States.

An aerotropolis, as defined by Dr. John D. Kasarda1, an aerotropolis planning expert from the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, is an “aviation linked urban form consisting of an airport surrounded by tens of thousands of acres of light industrial space, office space, upscale retail mix, business-class hotel accommodations, restaurants, entertainment, recreation, golf courses, and single and multi family housing.”

Aerotropolises are conceptually similar to metropolises, with airport cities serving as the central business district of the aerotropolis. Dr. John D. Kasarda2 explains that airport cities are the urban core of the geographically larger aerotropolis, where the airport serves as the “region-wide multimodal transportation and commercial nexus,” while the business, commercial, and manufacturing elements (typically aviation related) develop along the airport transportation corridors up to 20 miles from the airport. Geographically similar to the metropolis, whose central city is comprised of a central transportation node, the aerotropolis utilizes the airport as its central transportation node.

Aerotropolises have emerged because of the advantages that airports provide in a global economy. Globally competitive businesses utilize the high-speed travel of airplanes for international communication and trade, allowing companies to minimize inventories, source parts globally, and provide fast and flexible responses to unique customer requests. To meet these needs, manufacturing, repair, and distribution facilities are being constructed near airports. This stimulates further growth in cargo and passenger air travel, trucking, air express, freight forwarders, and logistics providers along the airport corridors. However, growth is not limited to time sensitive facilities. Airport transportation corridors are becoming desired locations for corporate headquarters, trade representative offices, professional associations, and information intensive firms such as consulting and auditing, which require frequent travel.3

Planning for the anticipated growth that accompanies an aerotropolis is viewed as a vital step in the success and efficiency of such a development. The majority of older and more established aerotropolises evolved “spontaneously” and “haphazardly,” thus suffering from excessive congestion and environmental degradation. Experts regard planning of such a development as a key element in its success.4 As new aerotropolises seek to include residential, corporate headquarters, manufacturing, and commercial aspects, strategic planning of such a development is crucial in achieving efficiency.

Current U.S. airports with the designation of aerotropolis are Detroit Metropolitan Airport, Denver International Airport, Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport, Piedmont-Triad International Airport, LA/Ontario International Airport, and Memphis International Airport.

Working definition of aerotropolis that the project team and client are currently following:

i. A large commercial area where companies seeking strategic benefits derived from physical proximity, cluster along transportation corridors radiating from airports. Eventually, a critical mass of planned or organic business development occurs, creating an aviation-based urban environment called an Aerotropolis.




1Kasarda, John D., The Aerotropolis (Detroit, Michigan)
2Kasarda, John D., Airport Cities and the Aerotropolis
3Kasarda, John D., Airport Cities and the Aerotropolis
4Kasarda, John D., Airport Cities and the Aerotropolis

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