ACI World data reveals COVID-19’s impact on world’s busiest airports

Global passenger traffic at the world’s top 10 busiest airports decreased by -45.7% in 2020. Overall, passenger traffic at the world’s airports decreased by -64.6% 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 by Airports Council International (ACI) World, 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 begin-ning 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 9th in 2020, illustrating the uneven nature of the impact of, and recovery from, the pandemic across the world.

 “The impact of 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.”

ACI World estimates that there were 58 million global aircraft movements in 2020, representing a drop of -43% from 2019.

The top 10 airports represent 7% of global traffic (4.2 million movements) and experienced a drop of -34.3% compared to 2019. Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport surpassed Chicago O’Hare International Airport, after leading in 2019 and 2018.

 Revenues are tightly correlated to traffic levels for airports, 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.

     Air cargo was less impacted by COVID 19, with volumes decree-sing by only -8.9%, to an estimated 109 million metric tons in 2020, equivalent to 2016 levels (110 million metric tons).

ATL statement on ACI World Airport Traffic rankings

On the heels of the release of the ACI Airports Council International (ACI) preliminary world airport traffic rankings last Friday, which moved Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (ATL) out of the top ranking for the first time since 1998, ATL released the following statement:

“While we have been proud of our title as busiest in the world, 2020 was an unprecedented year, with unprecedented challenges, impacting travel across the United States, and the globe,” Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms said. “Hartsfield-Jackson’s top priority remains providing a safe and efficient experience for the traveling public. During the pandemic, ATL took substantial steps to protect passengers and employees alike. Those steps are allowing Hartsfield-Jackson and its partner airlines to return to normal, and with a renewed push to reclaim our title as the world’s busiest airport.”

Hartsfield-Jackson in 2015 became the first airport in the world to record more than 100 million passengers in a calendar year. In 2019, ATL served more than 110 million passengers, but the worldwide pandemic impacted aviation substantially in 2020. ATL recorded 42.9 million passengers last year, a drop of 61.2 percent.

 In its latest rankings, ACI named Guangzhou Bai Yun International Airport in southeast China as the busiest passenger airport in the world in 2020. Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (ATL) was ranked as the busiest passenger traffic airport in the United States and busiest in the world based on operations.

According to ACI’s figures, seven of top 10 airports for passenger traffic are in China, and the remaining three are in the United States: ATL, Dallas/Ft. Worth (ranked fourth), and Denver (ranked seventh). In addition to its status as the busiest domestic airport in 2020, ATL was named—once again—the busiest airport in the world for operations with 548,016 aircraft movements recorded.