COVID-19: ACI World says pandemic shutdown will cost airports US$97 billion in lost revenue

Traffic in 2019 grew 1.7% at world’s busiest airports, but 2020 outlook remains bleak

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An empty airport shows the current state of the industry due to the COVID-19 pandemic. (PHOTO: Shutterstock)

The world’s major trade group for airports, Airports Council International (ACI) World, said Monday (19 May) that the global COVID-19 pandemic has brought airports around the globe to a virtual standstill, resulting in airport traffic and revenue losses across all regions. ACI World now estimates a reduction of more than 4.6 billion passengers and more than US$97 billion in revenue for 2020. The group said 2019 data showed passenger traffic at the world’s top 20 busiest airports grew by 1.7 percent with more than 1.5 billion passengers passing through the terminals with the top 20 representing 17 percent of global passenger traffic.

A screenshot of the Johns Hopkins University COVID-19 tracking site taken on 20 May. To access the live site, click on the image. (PHOTO: Matt Driskill)

The combined 2019 and 2020 data shows the dramatic decline in air travel in the first quarter of 2020. In the top five, Beijing Airport notably experienced a 62.6 percent decline in passenger traffic but large decreases were also recorded across other top 20 airports in Asia-Pacific as the COVID-19 outbreak began to take hold in that region.


Download ACI World’s economic impact assessment
of COVID-19 on airports here.


Angela Gittens, director general of ACI World. (PHOTO: ACI World)

“ACI data shows that the outbreak of COVID-19 had a dramatic and immediate impact on the world’s airports and the wider aviation ecosystem,” ACI World Director General Angela Gittens said. “From a period of sustained passenger traffic growth in 2019, the industry is now in survival mode, crippled by the loss of passenger traffic and revenues. This year will pose major and unprecedented challenges for the industry as the impacts of travel restrictions and lockdown measures introduced in response to the pandemic remain an existential threat to the aviation industry unless governments can provide appropriate relief and assistance. Airports are critical in the air transport ecosystem which is a key driver of local, regional and national economies. Financial relief and assistance is urgently needed.”

As for cargo, against a global economic backdrop that remained quite challenging, air cargo volume experienced a decline of 3.9 percent at the world’s top 20 airports as they handled a combined 48 million metric tonnes of cargo. Hong Kong International Airport remains the largest air cargo hub, handling 4.8 million metric tonnes of cargo in 2019, but it experienced a decline in volume of 6.1 percent compared to 2018. Memphis Airport was in second place and Shanghai Airport came in third. All three experienced considerable declines in the first quarter of 2020 while Louisville Airport and Incheon in South Korea recorded growth in cargo during the first stages of the COVID-19 outbreak.

Aircraft movements grew by 1.5 percent in 2019 for the top 20 airports. Chicago O’Hare remained the busiest airport in the world for aircraft movements, with Atlanta-Hartsfield-Jackson Airport coming in a close second. Both saw movements decrease in the first quarter of 2020.

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