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Chinese airports account for seven of top 10 busiest airports in world


Guangzhou Baiyun (CAN) in China continues to hold off Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta (ATL) in the US for the title of busiest passenger airport on the planet, according to the latest traffic figures from ACI World.

Indeed, Chinese airports accounted for seven of the top ten busiest airports in the world for passenger traffic in the first half of 2021 based on ACI’s 2021 World Airport Traffic Report (WATR).

Chengdu Shuangliu (CTU), Shenzhen Bao’an (SZX), Chongqing Jiangbei (CKG), Beijing Capital (PEK), Kunming Changshui (KMG) and Shanghai Hongqiao (SHA) are the other Chinese airports, with the US gateways of Dallas/Fort Worth (DFW) and Denver (DEN) completing the Top 10.

The new traffic data once again shines a light on the devastating impact COVID-19 has had on global traffic over the last 18 months.

According to the report, the COVID-19 outbreak reduced the number of passengers at the world’s airports by more than 5.6 billion in 2020 and is forecast to remove an additional 4.6 billion passengers by the end of 2021, compared to 2019 volumes.

Global passenger traffic in 2021 is expected to reach only half of what it was in 2019, totalling only 4.6 billion of the 9.2 billion passengers served two years ago.

The world’s airports also saw a sharp reduction in global aircraft movements in 2020, decreasing by 39.5% to reach only 62 million.

The pandemic, however, had a less severe impact on global air cargo volume, largely driven by the requirement for personal protective equipment (PPE) and the increase in online retail. Nevertheless, global air cargo declined by 9.6% in 2020 compared to 2019, with 108 million tonnes handled in 2020.

Global passenger traffic: domestic traffic leading recovery

Due to COVID-19 related travel restrictions worldwide, domestic passenger traffic continues its trend from 2020 into 2021 of recovering faster than the international market – especially in China and in the US, the latter being the world’s largest domestic market.

Globally, ACI says that domestic traffic will continue to increase in 2021 to reach more than 3.1 billion passengers by the end of the year, a level corresponding to 58.5% of that achieved in 2019.

Global cargo traffic: fuelled by PPE, vaccines, and online retail

ACI notes that despite the general feeling that air cargo volume boomed in 2020 because of the requirements for personal protection equipment (PPE) and later for vaccine shipments, the decrease in passenger-aircraft movements – which severely limited the availability of belly-hold cargo capacity – offset gains from shipments of PPEs and online retail merchandise.

According to WATR, about 11.5 million metric tonnes less of air cargo were carried in 2020, returning the industry to 2015–2016 tonnage levels, and the COVID-19 crisis is expected to remove more than 3.6 billion passengers for 2022, representing a 28.3% decrease from 2019 levels.

The performance of individual airports in the top 10 busiest cargo hubs differed significantly from 2019 rankings. Memphis (MEM), the global hub for FedEx, saw volume grow 6.7% in 2020. Its growth helped MEM take the top place in 2020 reclaiming the number one ranking held by Hong Kong (HKG, down 7.1% in 2020) since 2010.

Shanghai Pudong (+1.4%), Anchorage (+15%), and Louisville Muhammad Ali International Airport (+4.6%) – home to United Parcel Service – complete the top five busiest airports for air cargo.

Airports heavily used by all-cargo carriers or major consolidators such as UPS experienced much better performances in 2020 compared to airports relying on international passenger movements for belly cargo capacity.

“The impact of COVID-19 has completely altered the airport sector as seen in the busiest passenger and cargo traffic rankings,” says ACI World director general, Luis Felipe de Oliveira.

“The 2021 World Airport Traffic Report provides in-depth analyses into the impact of the pandemic on airport passenger, movement, and cargo traffic from a global and regional perspective – enabling airport stakeholders to make data-driven decisions as airports and the aviation sector work towards a sustained long-term recovery.

“The economic value driven by airports cannot be understated when it comes to facilitating business and leisure travel, trade, and the subsequent GDP, jobs, taxes, and associated social benefits.

“Air traffic is the lifeblood of the airport business, highlighting the necessity of government action to promote safe travel—including a coordinated and risk-based approach to testing and vaccination—rather than enforcing full-scale restrictions and blanket measures.”


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