After 22 years there’s a new world’s busiest airport. And guess what? It’s in China

In the spotlight

ACI (Airport Council International) World released preliminary figures regarding passenger traffic in 2020, when Atlanta Hartsfield airport lost its position as the world’s busiest after 22 consecutive years spent at the top. The Delta Airlines’ hub was surpassed by Guangzhou Baiyun International (CAN), in Southern China. The former Canton gained 11 positions from the eleventh spot occupied in 2019 to the number 1, with Atlanta falling in second position.

As China navigated through the peak of the Covid pandemic several months before the rest of the world, traffic losses were less dramatic in 2020. Plus, China can count on a huge domestic market, where flights never halted completely. Seven out of the 2020 top 10 airports in the world are Chinese, with the remaining three all situated in the United States, another big Country where domestic operations never halted.

Guangzhou is the main hub for China Southern Airlines (Wikimedia /Chinatravelsavvy)

Guanghzhou, in particular, is the home town of China Southern Airlines (CZ), the world’s sixth-largest airline measured by passengers carried and Asia’s largest airline in fleet size, revenue, and passengers carried. According to ACI figures, in 2019 it handled 73,394,810 passengers, which went down to 43,767,558 in 2020 with a loss of 40.4%. But enough to beat the 42,918,685 passengers handled in 2020 by Atlanta Hartfield, which went down from 110,531,300 in 2019 (-61.2%).

At this point, many would reasonably expect to see Beijing Capital (PEK) in third position, as the airport held number 2 overall in 2019 and had been China’s number 1 for many years. Instead, in order to find PEK we have to scroll the list until the sixth place: as the airport traditionally manages a lot of international traffic beside domestic flights, it was the one in China paying the heavier tribute to the travel bans issued by many Countries to contain the pandemic. So, while in 2019 PEK had broken the 100mln passengers mark registering 100,013,642 travellers, in 2020 it handled 34,513,827 passengers with a loss of 65.5%.

Chengdu’s Terminal 2 departure hall (Wikimedia / Wwklion)

Two far less known Chinese airports overcame it in last year’s ACI top 10: Chengdu (CTU) which had been only 24th in 2019 but ranked third in 2020 with 40.741,509 passengers, and Shenzen (SZX), which had been 26th in 2019 with 52,931,925 and finished fifth in 2020 with 37,916,054 (-28.4%). Between the two we find, in fourth position, Dallas Fort Worth (DFW) with 39,364,900 passengers, down 47.6% from 75,066,956 in 2019. Another US hub, Denver International (DEN) with 33,741,129 passengers (-51.1%) preceded Kunming (KMG) with 32.990,805, which was only 37th in the world in 2019. The last two spots in the top 10 are occupied by Shanghai’s ‘domestic’ airport, Hongqiao (SHA), which had ended 2019 as world 46th  and Xi’an (XIY), 40th in 2019, with 31,165,641 and 31,073,924 passengers, respectively.

Shenzen Bao’an airy and lighty Terminal 3 (Wikimedia / Christian Ganshirt)

Quite a few big names among world airports closed the year very far from the top positions: Tokyo Haneda (HND) slid from 5th to 12th position, Dubai International (DXB) from 4th to 19th, Paris Charles De Gaulle (CDG) from 7th to 21th and London Heathrow (LHR) from 9th to 22nd. London main hub, though, classified 3rd among world’s airports considering international traffic, in a ranking where Dubai was in first position, followed by Amsterdam (AMS), London (LHR), Paris (CDG), Frankfurt (FRA), Istanbul (IST), Doha (DOH), Seoul Incheon (ICN); Singapore (SIN) and Madrid (MAD). (Photo header Wikimedia Commons)

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