Seven of the world’s top 10 busiest airports in 2020 were in China while the former world’s busiest airport – Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport in the United States – fell to No. 2 in the rankings after 22 consecutive years in the top spot.
Guangzhou Baiyun International Airport in China was the world’s busiest airport in 2020, rising to the No. 1 spot from its No. 11 ranking in 2019, according to preliminary figures released Thursday by airport trade organization Airports Council International (ACI).
Dramatic shifts in the top 10 list for passenger numbers – and the decimation of global air traffic overall – is of course because of the Covid-19 pandemic that continues to disrupt travel all over the globe.
Guangzhou saw 43.8 million passengers in 2020, down 40% from 2019. Atlanta had 42.9 million passengers last year, a precipitous 61% drop from 2019.
Atlanta’s fall from the top slot is expected to be temporary, according to Patrick Lucas, ACI World’s vice president for economics.
“While the industry recovers, we expect ATL to retake its spot at the top in the coming years,” Lucas said.
Airports in the Chinese cities of Chengdu, Shenzhen, Kunming, Shanghai and Xi’an were also among the top 10 in 2020, rising from 2019 rankings as low as No. 46 (Shanghai’s Hongqiao International Airport) to break into the top 10.
Beijing Capital International Airport, which has often held the No. 2 ranking and held that spot in 2019, dropped to No. 6 on the 2020 list.
Global air traffic plunges
In 2020, air passenger traffic around the world fell by nearly 65%, according to ACI figures. Passenger traffic at the 10 busiest airports in 2020 dropped by nearly 46%.
“The data published today reveals the challenge airports continue to face, and it remains imperative that the industry is supported through direct support and sensible policy decisions from governments to ensure that aviation can endure, rebuild connectivity, and fuel a global economic recovery,” ACI World Director General Luis Felipe de Oliveira said in a statement.
“The findings show that the impact remains uneven with different regions experiencing different challenges and requiring different policy decisions and support from governments to lay the foundation for recovery,” he said.
ACI doesn’t expect global passenger traffic to recover to 2019 levels before 2024, according to Lucas.
In addition to Atlanta, two other airports in the United States made it into the top 10: Dallas/Fort Worth International at No. 4 (up from No. 10 in 2019) and Denver International at No. 7 (up from No. 16 in 2019).
No European airports were in the top 10 in 2020; London and Paris made the list in 2019. Dubai and Tokyo also dropped off the list in 2020.
Domestic air travel
ACI noted that domestic air travel is beginning to rebound in many places, while international air travel remains heavily restricted.
China’s strong showing in the top 10 is due in part to less broadly restricted domestic travel in China, where the novel coronavirus emerged in late 2019 and was aggressively beaten back with strict lockdowns.
The nation is the world’s second-largest domestic travel market, after the United States.
International travel in China is still highly restricted, Lucas noted, forcing many travelers who might have traveled internationally to travel within China.
While some signs of recovery are emerging, ACI’s leader highlighted several critical components for continued improvement.
“A sustained global recovery will only be realized with an escalation of vaccination campaigns, the continued development of digital health passes and coordinated and cohesive policy support from governments,” ACI Director General de Oliveira said.
2020’s busiest airports for passenger traffic
1. Guangzhou (CAN) – 43.8 million passengers in 2020; traffic dropped 40% from 2019
2. Atlanta (ATL) – 42.9 million passengers in 2020; traffic dropped 61% from 2019
3. Chengdu (CTU) – 40.7 million passengers in 2020; traffic dropped 27% from 2019
4. Dallas/Fort Worth (DFW) – 39.4 million passengers in 2020; traffic dropped 48% from 2019
5. Shenzhen (SZX) – 37.9 million passengers in 2020; traffic dropped 28% from 2019
6. Beijing (PEK) – 34.5 million passengers in 2020; traffic dropped 66% from 2019
7. Denver (DEN) – 33.7 million passengers in 2020; traffic dropped 51% from 2019
8. Kunming (KMG) – 33 million passengers in 2020; traffic dropped 31% from 2019
9. Shanghai (SHA) – 31.2 million passengers in 2020; traffic dropped 32% from 2019
10. Xi’an (XIY) – 31.1 million passengers in 2020; traffic dropped 34% from 2019