The US airport was knocked from its No. 1 perch to the No. 2 spot in passenger volume in 2020 by Guangzhou Baiyun International Airport in China, breaking Atlanta Airport’s 22-year streak in the first place.
But in the 2021 rankings released by trade association Airports Council International on Monday, ATL is back at the top, a sign of recovery after the precipitous drop in air traffic in 2020 as the pandemic took hold.
In 2021, Atlanta Airport handled 75.7 million passengers. That figure is up 76% from 2020, but still nearly 32% below 2019’s pre-pandemic figures.
Guangzhou Airport fell to 8th place in 2021, with 40.3 million passengers. Another airport in China, Chengdu’s Shuangliu International Airport, is ninth on the 2021 list, down from No. 3 in 2020.
US airports led passenger traffic rankings in 2021, with eight of the top 10 in the US.
Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport in Texas was the second busiest in 2021, with approximately 62.5 million passengers, and Denver International Airport, Colorado, ranked third, with 58.8 million of passengers.
Chicago’s O’Hare and Los Angeles International round out the top five.
The list shows “an encouraging trend of recovery,” ACI World chief executive Luis Felipe de Oliveira said in a statement.
“While we are cautious that the recovery could face multiple headwinds, the momentum created by countries’ reopening plans could lead to increased travel in the second half of 2022,” de Oliveira said.
In 2021, there were around 4.5 billion passengers worldwide, according to ACI. This figure represents an increase of almost 25% compared to 2020 but a decrease of more than 50% compared to 2019.
The United States and China switch places
Given the much faster recovery of domestic travel compared to international travel, airports that were at the bottom of the list of busiest airports in the world before the pandemic have jumped into the top 10.
Airports in Charlotte, North Carolina (No. 6); Orlando, Florida (No. 7); and Las Vegas (#10) are new to the top 10 this year. Vacation magnets Orlando and Las Vegas were No. 31 and No. 30 for pre-pandemic passenger traffic in 2019.
The strong performance of the United States in the top 10 is a reversal from 2020, when Chinese airports took seven of the top 10 slots.
China’s dominance in 2020 was due to an early rebound in China’s domestic travel. The country has still not reopened to international visitors.
“If we look back to 2020, China was one of the first to emerge from the first waves of the pandemic and it actually almost reached full recovery by the end of 2020,” said Patrick Lucas, vice-president. president of ACI World for the economy.
But in 2021, China’s domestic traffic dropped dramatically with further closures, while the United States saw a big jump.
The United States has the largest domestic travel market in the world, followed by China.
Airports that regularly featured in the top 10 busiest airports in the world – such as Dubai International, London Heathrow and Paris Charles de Gaulle – have been absent during the pandemic.
“Those markets that had very high proportions of international traffic were of course impacted by all of these restrictions and quarantine requirements,” Lucas said.
The important role of international traffic is also partly the reason why airports in the capital city of Beijing and Pudong International Airport in Shanghai dropped out of the top 10. The city’s new Daxing International Airport.
Cancellation of restrictions
ACI advocates a “risk-based approach” to easing travel restrictions, following Covid-19 data, Lucas said.
“Vaccines have actually been the passport to travel, but as we can see now, many major markets are opening up and … many countries have realized that limiting travel or imposing travel restrictions does not actually nothing,” he said. mentioned.
“If anything, it creates even more harm. So that means it disrupts the socio-economic gains of air travel and tourism etc.”
As things stand, ACI expects total passenger numbers to return to pre-pandemic levels in 2024.
However, strong domestic markets, including the United States, are expected to recover by 2023. And markets with a high proportion of international traffic are unlikely to rebound until 2025, Lucas said.
Overall, there are “different forces moving in opposite directions”.
There’s very strong pent-up demand and the lifting of restrictions that have held back travel amid rising travel costs and geopolitical concerns over what’s happening in Eastern Europe, Lucas said.
But overall, ACI is optimistic. “We feel that consumers, passengers, are going to bite the bullet, so to speak, despite the rising cost of travel.”
The 10 busiest airports in the world for passenger traffic in 2021
1. Atlanta (ATL): 75.7 million passengers, up 76% from 2020
2. Dallas/Fort Worth (DFW): 62.5 million passengers, up 59% from 2020
3. Denver (DEN): 58.8 million passengers, up 74% from 2020
4. Chicago O’Hare (ORD): 54 million passengers, up 75% from 2020
5. Los Angeles (LAX): 48 million passengers, up 67% from 2020
6. Charlotte (CLT): 43.3 million passengers, up 59% compared to 2020
7. Orlando (MCO): 40.4 million passengers, up 87% from 2020
8. Guangzhou (CAN): 40.3 million passengers, down 8% from 2020
9. Chengdu (CTU): 40.1 million passengers, down 1.5% from 2020
10. Las Vegas (LAS): 39.8 million passengers, up 79% from 2020
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