Apologies in advance if this is in the wrong place, there isn't a geography StackExchange so this was the next best option I could find.

I've read multiple things about the huge size of King Khalid Internaional Airport (IATA: RUH, ICAO: OERK) in Riyadh, one source said it was bigger than Paris and others have said it's larger than the entire country of Bahrain.

Judging from Google Maps, it really isn't particularly big. What's the deal with that?



  • 6
    $\begingroup$ Not sure if this is on topic, but it certainly is amusing. $\endgroup$
    – egid
    Jan 6, 2017 at 2:26
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ By the way, Skeptics exists for testing the validity of claims, regardless of their domain. You just need to have a 'notable' source for the claim. You don't necessarily need to move this question there; I just wanted to let you know about it for the future, since you mentioned looking for the proper stack. $\endgroup$
    – reirab
    Jan 6, 2017 at 20:44
  • $\begingroup$ The answer to this question will depend to a significant degree on how the airport boundaries are defined. In the case of King Khalid (OERK), the supposed airport boundaries—encompassing some 230 km²—consists primarily of undeveloped land as well as a University, research centers, and residential developments. To my mind a more accurate aviation-specific definition for the term airport boundary would more along the lines of: airport land surface dedicated to aviation use, support of aviation, or set aside as area protected for aviation purposes. $\endgroup$
    – J W
    Jan 6, 2017 at 22:41

5 Answers 5


It depends how you define the airport. I don't think your Google Maps method is sound, however; it depicts built-up areas, not the airport boundary. You couldn't draw the same map around LAX, say.

The standard for measuring the area of an airport appears to be the total land owned by the airport. And jet age airports, with their expansive noise buffers and office park reservations, tend to take as much as they can get. DEN is reckoned the largest airport in the U.S., at 33,531 acres (~136 km²), though only a fraction of this is developed.

The numbers for total land are easy to find, the numbers for improved land less so, but I found an informative Globe and Mail article about Montreal-Mirabel. When originally created, the land seized for the airport was larger than the city of Montreal itself— around 97,000 acres (~392.5 km²). The article notes that the airport perimeter itself was only about 5,200 acres (~21 km²). Still, it's the former number that is commonly bandied about, and the measure by which Mirabel was considered the largest airport in the world.

According to Kable, a London-based business information firm, King Khaled International Airport covered an area of 225 km² when it opened in 1983.

In 1999 it was surpassed by King Fahd International Airport, which occupies 776 km². This is roughly the figure given by the 2013 Guinness Book of World Records.


It might help to have citations for the claims you mention - perhaps there's missing context.

That said, you're right. The comparisons sound utterly false, based on Google Maps' measurement tool:

enter image description here enter image description here

Click to embiggen the images, but they're not remotely close: Bahrain's total area is around 700km²; OERK airport according to Google measures closer to 37km². It's not even necessary to closely follow the Bahrain coastline to get a precise figure, the numbers are so far off.

That said, Wikipedia has an uncited claim that:

The airport occupies an area of 375 square kilometres (93,000 acres).

It seems likely but not guaranteed that this could be due an omitted decimal (37.5km², not 375km²) or to unscrupulous edits. Even so: if it were 375km², it would only be larger than the administrative center of Paris (105km²); it would remain smaller than Bahrain.

EDIT: that seems likely. Back in 2013 an anonymous user added that its area was 300km² and the airport's size has, at least in print, steadily increased since then. I imagine if you did some more forensics you'd find that this is all random IPs.

  • 3
    $\begingroup$ Or it could be something meaningless like the "amount of land owned by the airport holding company". $\endgroup$ Jan 6, 2017 at 2:35
  • $\begingroup$ I originally read it (the "larger than Paris" claim) in a book published by DK (Dorling Kindersley) called "Amazing Facts" and decided to Google for more information, which I couldn't find much of to be honest. $\endgroup$
    – yogalD
    Jan 6, 2017 at 4:41
  • $\begingroup$ @GregHewgill it could, but the lack of citation for such a bizarre (and vague) claim, and the various changes over time (300, then 310, then 375) make me think it's just internet weirdoes screwing around. $\endgroup$
    – egid
    Jan 6, 2017 at 5:03
  • $\begingroup$ May be like the Chinese claim that he Great Wall is visible from space... nonsense, but sounds good for national pride. $\endgroup$
    – Ralph J
    Jan 6, 2017 at 12:21
  • $\begingroup$ @RalphJ Lots of things are visible from space, especially roads, but even runways, bridges, etc. in some cases. The Great Wall is indeed more questionable, though. There are some photos where it's a bit visible, but most astronauts seem to say it's hard to see with the naked eye from LEO. Of course, the original claim about it being visible from the moon is utter nonsense. $\endgroup$
    – reirab
    Jan 6, 2017 at 20:40

Not a complete answer, but possible airports limits, based on zoning data, may be these one:

enter image description here

Other clues may be discovered in the same page. The cadastral information is handled by MOMRA. The company that surveyed this area may be Twozan.

This is a "community answer", so feel free to improve it.


The King Khalid International Airport (234 km^2) is larger than Paris proper (160.0 km^2).

The King Khalid International Airport is not larger than Bahrain (762.8 km^2).

enter image description here

To arrive at this answer I used some data from various sources. Mostly non-official but dependable sources as I do not have the language skills to navigate Arabic websites.

I pulled street data from OpenStreetMap and using the very good find by the community wiki response georeferenced the future land use map with points using the polyline data. Georeferencing is used to correctly orientate and scale raster images to geographical locations. I then created a new feature using the rubbersheeted/georeferenced land use map to draw the rough outline of the land that could be used for airport activities; this is the land dedicated to airport use not necessarily the actual size of the facilities. This should give us a rough idea of the size and shape of the airport. 234 square kilometres.

Using data of the administrative districts for Paris, I summed the area of the 80 districts for Paris proper. 160.0 square kilometres.

Using ESRI's shapefile for world nations, I found the area of Bahrain. 762.8 square kilometres.

If you enjoy maps, come on over to the https://gis.stackexchange.com/. It is probably the closest to pure geography on SE yet.

  • $\begingroup$ So basically the consensus is the size is based on the airport's land area? $\endgroup$
    – yogalD
    Jan 7, 2017 at 9:24
  • $\begingroup$ Truthfully not sure what the exact definition of an airport facility would be and if it wouldn't change country to country. I am not associated with the air travel industry in any form, but love this SE and first question my skills (GIS/Urban Planning) could help with. Without an official definition or map boundaries, land use is probably the safest bet as usually air use zones forbid most construction and use owned by the facility. $\endgroup$
    – RomaH
    Jan 9, 2017 at 14:11

It really depends on how you define 'big.'

In terms of size of the terminal and movement areas, it's not very big at all for an international airport. Even medium-sized passenger airports in the U.S. are commonly larger than Riyadh's airport. It has only 2 parallel runways and 24 boarding bridges. By comparison, the medium-sized airport I usually fly out of in the U.S. has 36 boarding bridges, 3 parallel runways, and an additional crosswind runway. The busiest airport - Atlanta International - has over 200 boarding bridges and 5 parallel runways in simultaneous use.

In terms of land area, especially land area owned by the airport rather than just what it actually uses, it is indeed quite a bit of land, though that's not necessarily unusual, especially for newer airports built in places with a significant amount of available land. Airports generally like to buy up as much land as feasible in order to have room for future expansion. Many of today's large airports are now space-constrained as the cities they serve have built up around them since the airport was originally built. Airports that can try to buy up land that they might possibly need in the future in order to prevent running out of space to expand.

In terms of passengers per year, Riyadh's airport is relatively large, but nowhere close to the world's largest hub airports. In 2015, Riyadh served 22.5 million passengers. By comparison, Atlanta had 101.5 million. The 50th-ranked airport was Minneapolis/St. Paul International at 36.6 million. So, by passenger traffic, Riyadh is probably somewhere around 100th worldwide, though exact rankings below 50th aren't made public by ACI.


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