ACI World today confirmed what many had long suspected, Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta (ATL) regained its status as the world’s busiest airport in 2021 by handing 75.7 million passengers – 76% more than in the previous 12 months.
Dallas/Fort Worth (DFW) was the world’s second busiest gateway in 2021, handling 62.4 million passengers (+58%), followed by Denver (DEN) with 58.8 million (+74%), Chicago O’Hare (ORD) with 54 million (+75%) and Los Angeles (LAX) with 48 million (+66%).
In an almost complete reverse of 2020, when Chinese airports led by Guanghzou (CAN) filled most of the Top 10 positions, US airports accounted for eight of the Top 10 in 2021, with Charlotte (CLT), Orlando (MCO) and Las Vegas (LAS) finishing sixth, seventh and tenth respectively.
Sandwiched in between Orlando in seventh and Las Vegas in tenth were Guangzhou and Chengdu, which both welcomed around 40 million passengers in 2021.
ACI World says that 2021’s Top 10 table show encouraging signs of traffic recovery as many previous busiest airports re-join top ranks.
The world airport rankings are based on the preliminary compilation of 2021 global data from airports around the world.
Global passenger traffic
Total global passengers in 2021 is estimated to be close to 4.5 billion, representing an increase of almost 25% from 2020, or a drop of more than 50% from 2019 results.
Passenger traffic at the top 10 busiest airports, representing collectively almost 10% of global traffic (463 million passengers), witnessed a gain of 51.8% from 2020, or a drop of 29.1% vis-à-vis their 2019 results.
ACI World notes that all Top 10 airports in 2021 have a significant share of domestic traffic, the traffic segment that has been leading global recovery.
The biggest improvement recorded was from Orlando International Airport (MCO, 40.4 million passengers, +86.7%) that jumped from 27th position in 2020 to seventh spot in 2021.
“The ACI World passenger traffic rankings tell the story of an encouraging trend of recovery, with most of the recurrent busiest airports pre-COVID-19 back at the top,” said ACI World director general, Luis Felipe de Oliveira.
“Although we are cautious that recovery could face multiple headwinds, the momentum created by re-opening plans by countries could lead to an uptick in travel in the second half of 2022.
“As such, ACI World continues to advocate to governments to follow the data and ease travel restrictions to safely restore the movement of people, goods, and services.
This will provide travellers with more travel options and propel the overall recovery through aviation’s unique role in boosting trade, tourism, investment and creating jobs.”
Cargo and aircraft movements
Air cargo, which was less impacted by COVID-19, had its volumes increase by close to 15% year-over-year (+3.5% versus 2019), to an estimated record 124 million tonnes in 2021.
Air cargo volumes at the top 10 airports, representing collectively around 25% (31.5 million tonnes) of the global volumes in 2021, gained 12.1% in 2021 year-over-year (or 15.0% vs. 2019 results).
The gain can be attributed to the continued increase in demand for online consumer goods and pharmaceutical products.
Hong Kong International Airport (HKG) with 5 million metric tonnes (+12.5%) regained top spot, followed by Memphis International Airport (MEM) with 4.5 million tonnes (-2.9%) and Shanghai Pudong International Airport (PVG) with 4 million metric (+8.0%).
ACI World estimates that there were over 69 million global aircraft movements in 2021, representing a gain of more than 12% from 2020.
The top 10 airports represent close to 8% of global traffic (5.3 million movements) and experienced a gain of 33.9% year-over-year, still representing a drop of 16.1% vis-à-vis 2019.
ATL led the way with 708,000 movements (+29.1%) followed by ORD with 684,000 (+27.1%) and DFW with 652,000 (+26.7%).
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