Atlanta Airport will regain its title as the world’s busiest in 2021

(CNN) – Move over, Guangzhou. Georgia’s Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport is once again the busiest airport in the world.

The US airport was knocked out of its No. 1 to No. 2 passenger volume in 2020 by Guangzhou Baiyun International Airport in China, breaking Atlanta Airport’s 22-year streak into the top spot.

But in the 2021 rankings released on Monday by the industry association Airports Council International, ATL is back at the top, a sign of improvement from 2020’s sharp dives in air traffic when the pandemic took hold.

By 2021, Atlanta Airport had 75.7 million passengers. That number has risen as much as 76% from 2020, but still almost 32% below the figures from 2019 before the pandemic.

Guangzhou Airport dropped to No. 8 in 2021 with 40.3 million passengers. Another airport in China, Chengdus Shuangliu International Airport, is ninth on the 2021 list, down from No. 3 in 2020.

US airports dominated the passenger traffic rankings in 2021 with eight of the top 10 in the United States.

The Dallas / Fort Worth International Airport in Texas was the second-busiest in 2021 with about 62.5 million passengers, and the international airport in Denver, Colorado, became number three with 58.8 million passengers.

Chicago’s O’Hare and Los Angeles International rounded out the top five.

The list shows “an encouraging trend for improvement,” said Luis Felipe de Oliveira, ACI World’s CEO, in a statement.

“While we are cautious that recovery may face more headwinds, the momentum created by reopening plans from the countries could lead to an increase in travel in the second half of 2022,” de Oliveira said.

By 2021, there were an estimated 4.5 billion passengers globally, according to ACI. That figure represents an increase of almost 25% from 2020, but a decrease of more than 50% from 2019.

Baiyun International Airport in Guangzhou, China, was Atlanta’s International Airport in 2020 as the busiest in the world. In 2021, Guangzhou Airport dropped to No. 8.

Tian Jianchuan / Xinhua / ZUMA Press

The United States and China are swapping places

Given the much faster recovery of domestic travel compared to international travel, airports that were far down the list of the world’s busiest airports pre-pandemic have jumped into the top 10.

Charlotte, North Carolina Airports (No. 6); Orlando, Florida (No. 7); and Las Vegas (No. 10) are new to the top 10 this year. Holiday magnets Orlando and Las Vegas were No. 31 and No. 30 for passenger traffic before the 2019 pandemic.

The United States’ strong appearance in the top 10 is a turnaround from 2020, when airports in China took seven of the top 10 slots.

China’s dominance in 2020 was due to the early recovery for domestic travel in China. The country is still not reopened to international visitors.

“If we look back at 2020, China was one of the first to emerge from the initial waves of the pandemic, and it actually reached almost a full recovery by the end of 2020,” said Patrick Lucas, ACI World’s Vice President of Economics. .

But in 2021, domestic traffic in China fell sharply with renewed shutdowns, while the US experienced a big jump.

The United States has the world’s largest domestic travel market, followed by China.

Airports that routinely landed in the top 10 of the world’s busiest airport list – such as Dubai International, London Heathrow and Paris Charles de Gaulle – have been absent during the pandemic.

“The markets that had very high proportions of international traffic were obviously hurt as a result of all these restrictions and quarantine requirements,” Lucas said.

The significant role of international traffic is also part of the reason why Beijing’s capital and Shanghai’s Pudong International airports have dropped out of the top 10. Beijing Capital – once routinely No. 2 in passenger traffic – is also experiencing its traffic split by the city’s new Daxing International Airport. .

Dubai International Airport, which sees a large share of international traffic, dropped out of the 10 busiest airports in 2021. However, it remained No. 1 for international passengers in 2021.

Dubai International Airport, which sees a large share of international traffic, dropped out of the 10 busiest airports in 2021. However, it remained No. 1 for international passengers in 2021.

Elena / Adobe Stock

Withdrawal of restrictions

ACI advocates a “risk-based approach” to easing travel restrictions based on Covid-19 data, Lucas said.

“Vaccines have actually been adapted to travel, but as we can see now, many large markets are opening up, and … many countries have become aware that it actually does nothing to restrict travel or impose travel restrictions,” he said. .

“If anything, it creates even more harm. So that means it disrupts the socio-economic gains of air transport and tourism and so on.”

As it stands, ACI expects total passenger traffic numbers to turn to pre-pandemic levels by 2024.

But strong domestic markets, including the United States, are expected to recover by 2023. And markets with a high share of international traffic are not expected to return until 2025, Lucas said.

Globally, there are “different forces moving in opposite directions.”

There is a very strong accumulated demand and lifting of restrictions that have dampened travel versus the rising travel costs and geopolitical concerns related to what is happening in Eastern Europe, Lucas said.

But overall, ACI is optimistic. “We have a feeling that consumers, passengers will, so to speak, bite the bullet, despite the increase in travel costs.”

Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport says it is within a two-hour flight of 80% of the U.S. population.

Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport says it is within a two-hour flight of 80% of the U.S. population.

Elijah Nouvelage / Reuters

The world’s top 10 busiest passenger airports in 2021

Atlanta (ATL): 75.7 million passengers, an increase of 76% from 2020

2. Dallas / Fort Worth (DFW): 62.5 million passengers, an increase of 59% from 2020

Denver (DEN): 58.8 million passengers, an increase of 74% from 2020

4. Chicago O’Hare (ORD): 54 million passengers, an increase of 75% from 2020

5. Los Angeles (LAX): 48 million passengers, an increase of 67% from 2020

6. Charlotte (CLT): 43.3 million passengers, an increase of 59% from 2020

7. Orlando (MCO): 40.4 million passengers, an increase of 87% from 2020

8. Guangzhou (CAN): 40.3 million passengers, a decrease of 8% from 2020

9. Chengdu (CTU): 40.1 million passengers, a decrease of 1.5% from 2020

10. Las Vegas (LAS): 39.8 million passengers, an increase of 79% from 2020

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