World’s busiest airports for pax now in China

Seven of the top 10 airports for passenger traffic are in China with three in the US. Domestic air travel is beginning a modest rebound while international air travel remains depressed because of on-going travel restrictions

Guangzhou Bai Yun International Airport in China recorded the most passenger traffic in 2020.

Use this oneAirports Council International (ACI) World has published its preliminary world airport traffic rankings – covering passenger traffic, cargo volumes, and aircraft movements for 2020 – showing the dramatic impact of COVID-19 on what are ordinarily the world’s busiest airports. Global passenger traffic at the world’s top 10 busiest airports decreased by -45.7 percent in 2020. Overall, passenger traffic at the world’s airports decreased by -64.6 percent which shows that the impact of the pandemic and the early stages of recovery in air travel has not been uniform around the world. According to the preliminary data published, Guangzhou Bai Yun International Airport in China recorded the most passenger traffic in 2020, with Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport in the United States just behind.

Seven of the top 10 airports for passenger traffic are in China with three in the United States. In most cases, domestic air travel is beginning a modest rebound while international air travel remains depressed because of on-going travel restrictions. For example, Hongqiao International Airport in China has moved from 46th position in 2019 to the 9th in 2020, illustrating the uneven nature of the impact of, and recovery from, the pandemic across the world.

ACI World
ACI World Director General Luis Felipe de Oliveira.

“The impact of the COVID-19 on global passenger traffic pandemic brought aviation to a virtual standstill in 2020 and we continue to face an existential threat,” ACI World Director General Luis Felipe de Oliveira said. “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. 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. With some positive signs of recovery, especially in countries with high rates of vaccination, 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.”

Border closures
Border closures and quarantines mean very passengers are coming to Changi Airport in Singapore. (PHOTO: Matt Driskill)

Air cargo was less impacted by COVID 19, with volumes decreasing by only -8.9 percent, to an estimated 109 million metric tonnes in 2020, equivalent to 2016 levels (110 million metric tonnes). Air cargo volumes in the top 10 airports grew by +3 percent in 2020. These airports represent around 28 percent (30.6 million metric tonnes) of the global volumes in 2020. The gain can be attributed to the increase in demand for online consumer goods and pharmaceutical products and personal protective equipment. With a +6.7 percent increase, Memphis International Airport surpassed Hong Kong International Airport.

ACI World estimates that there were 58 million global aircraft movements in 2020, representing a drop of -43 percent from 2019. The top 10 airports represent 7 percent of global traffic (4.2 million movements) and experienced a drop of -34.3 percent compared to 2019. Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport surpassed Chicago O’Hare International Airport, after leading in 2019 and 2018.

Suvarnabhumi Airport
Passengers in protective overall and masks at Suvarnabhumi Airport going to check-in for repatriation flights and waving good bye during COVID-19 outbreak. (PHOTO: Shutterstock)

For airports, revenues are tightly correlated to traffic levels but, like many other capital-intensive businesses, a large proportion of airport costs remain largely fixed and do not fall at the same level as traffic throughput and revenues during the crisis. Even with reduced operations, the closure of terminals and staff layoffs, this imbalance remains.

“There is no denying the current economic realities – and the financial shortfall they create – that airports face,” de Oliveira said. “Airports are economic generators, bringing socio-economic benefits and jobs to the communities they serve, and governments need to provide the necessary financial alleviation and assistance to suit local circumstances. Airport operators also continue to work closely with their airline partners and other stakeholders balancing the current market realities with the cost of providing the infrastructure as they navigate the crisis together.”

20202019AIRPORT20202019Percent change
111GUANGZHOU, CN (CAN)43 767 55873 394 810-40.4
21ATLANTA GA, US (ATL)42 918 685110 531 300-61.2
324CHENGDU, CN (CTU)40 741 50955 858 552-27.1
410DALLAS/FORT WORTH TX, US (DFW)39 364 99075 066 956-47.6
526SHENZHEN, CN (SZX)37 916 05452 931 925-28.4
62BEIJING, CN (PEK)34 513 827100 013 642-65.5
716DENVER CO, US (DEN)33 741 12969 015 703-51.1
837KUNMING, CN (KMG)32 990 80548 076 238-31.4
946SHANGHAI, CN (SHA)31 165 64145 637 882-31.7
1040XI’AN, CN (XIY)31 073 92447 220 745-34.2
  • Total passengers enplaned and deplaned, passengers in transit counted once
20202019AIRPORT20202019Percent change
11DUBAI, AE (DXB)25 831 36386 328 896-70.1
23AMSTERDAM, NL (AMS)20 880 99071 679 691-70.9
32LONDON, GB (LHR)20 650 47376 043 973-72.8
46PARIS, FR (CDG)19 057 85669 841 276-72.7
58FRANKFURT, DE (FRA)16 837 10463 067 739-73.3
614ISTANBUL, TR (IST)15 945 34039 580 735-59.7
715DOHA, QA (DOH)12 522 28838 786 566-67.7
85INCHEON, KR (ICN)11 955 75670 578 050-83.1
97SINGAPORE, SG (SIN)11 635 00067 601 000-82.8
1011MADRID, ES (MAD)11 052 15744 919 124-75.4
  • International passengers enplaned and deplaned
20202019AIRPORT20202019Percent change
12MEMPHIS TN, US (MEM)4 613 4314 322 7406.7
21HONG KONG SAR, HK (HKG)4 468 0894 809 485-7.1
33SHANGHAI, CN (PVG)3 686 6273 634 2301.4
46ANCHORAGE AK, US (ANC)3 157 6822 745 34815.0
54LOUISVILLE KY, US (SDF)2 917 2432 790 1094.6
65INCHEON, KR (ICN)2 822 3702 764 3692.1
79CHINESE TAIPEI (TPE)2 342 7142 182 3427.4
813LOS ANGELES CA, US (LAX)2 229 4762 092 0036.6
98DOHA, QA (DOH)2 175 2922 215 804-1.8
1012MIAMI FL, US (MIA)2 137 6992 092 4722.2
  • Cargo: loaded and unloaded freight and mail in metric tonnes
20202019AIRPORT20202019Percent change
11HONG KONG SAR, HK (HKG)4 420 3124 703 589-6.0
22SHANGHAI, CN (PVG)2 952 6022 825 0094.5
33INCHEON, KR (ICN)2 759 4672 664 0053.6
46CHINESE TAIPEI (TPE)2 323 4122 165 2167.3
510ANCHORAGE AK, US (ANC)2 221 8041 942 55414.4
65DOHA, QA (DOH)2 145 0762 173 371-1.3
77TOKYO, JP (NRT)1 958 5052 039 905-4.0
84DUBAI, AE (DXB)1 932 0222 514 918-23.2
99FRANKFURT, DE (FRA)1 818 7481 961 460-7.3
1012MIAMI FL, US (MIA)1 730 8591 706 0641.5
  • International freight loaded and unloaded in metric tonnes
20202019AIRPORT20202019Percent change
12ATLANTA GA, US (ATL)  548 016  904 301-39.4
21CHICAGO IL, US (ORD)  538 211  919 704-41.5
33DALLAS/FORT WORTH TX, US (DFW)  514 702  720 007-28.5
45DENVER CO, US (DEN)  436 971  631 955-30.9
520PHOENIX AZ, US (DVT)  402 444  456 790-11.9
67CHARLOTTE NC, US (CLT)  397 983  578 263-31.2
74LOS ANGELES CA, US (LAX)  379 364  691 257-45.1
812GUANGZHOU, CN (CAN)  373 421  491 249-24.0
911SHANGHAI, CN (PVG)  325 678  511 846-36.4
108LAS VEGAS NV, US (LAS)  323 422  552 962-41.5
  • Movements: landings and takeoffs

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