Uneven effect of Covid-19 shakes up the lists of busiest airports

Airports Council International (ACI) World has published its preliminary world airport traffic rankings – covering passenger traffic and aircraft movements for 2020 – showing the dramatic impact of Covid-19 on what are ordinarily the world’s busiest airports.

Global passenger traffic at the world’s top 10 busiest airports decreased by 45.7% in 2020. Overall, passenger traffic at the world’s airports decreased by 64.6% which shows that the impact of the pandemic and the early stages of recovery in air travel has not been uniform around the world.

According to the preliminary data, Guangzhou Bai Yun International Airport in China recorded the most passenger traffic in 2020, with Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport in the United States just behind.

Seven of the top 10 airports for passenger traffic are in China with three in the United States. In most cases, domestic air travel is beginning a modest rebound while international air travel remained depressed because of travel restrictions.

Luis Felipe de Oliveira, Director General of ACI World said,

The impact of the COVID-19 on global passenger traffic pandemic brought aviation to a virtual standstill in 2020 and we continue to face threat. The data reveals the challenge airports continue to face and it remains imperative that the industry is supported through direct support and sensible policy decisions from governments to ensure that aviation can endure, rebuild connectivity, and fuel a global economic recovery.

The findings show that the impact remains uneven with different regions experiencing different challenges and requiring different policy decisions and support from governments to lay the foundation for recovery.

With some positive signs of recovery, especially in countries with high rates of vaccination, a sustained global recovery will only be realized with an escalation of vaccination campaigns, the continued development of digital health passes, and coordinated and cohesive policy support from governments.

Air cargo was less impacted by COVID 19, with volumes decreasing by only 8.9%, to an estimated 109 million metric tonnes in 2020, equivalent to 2016 levels (110 million metric tonnes).

For airports, revenues are tightly correlated to traffic levels but, like many other capital-intensive businesses, a large proportion of airport costs remain fixed and do not fall at the same level as traffic throughput and revenues during the crisis. Even with reduced operations, the closure of terminals and staff layoffs, this imbalance remains.

Airports in China occupied seven of the top ten positions in 2020. Atlanta slipped to second position, having seen a reduction in passenger traffic of 61.2%. Chengdu and Shenzen both moved up 21 places, Kunming 29, Xi’an 30 while Shanghai moved up 37 places.
Dubai retained its position as the world’s busiest international airport in 2020. Amsterdam and Heathrow swapped places. Istanbul and Doha both moved up eight positions in the table.

Istanbul New Airport set to open 3 March

Istanbul’s new airport is scheduled to become fully operational on 3 March 2019 following some initial delays.

The huge airport partially opened on 29 October 2018, but this year will see it take over all commercial flights from the current Ataturk Airport.

Unofficially know as Istanbul New Airport (officially Istanbul Airport), it plans to handle up to 90 million annual passengers, eventually expanding to a capacity of 200 million, making it one of the largest airports in the world.

UPDATED – Turkey’s Hurriyet newspaper reports that the opening is now scheduled for 7 April.

Istanbul Opens Mega-Airport!

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan officially opened Istanbul’s new airport on Monday this week to coincide with the 95th anniversary of modern Turkey’s foundation, and the associated public holiday, Republic Day.

Istanbul Airport will be capable of handling up to 90 million passengers by 2021, with further expansion leading to a total capacity of up to 200 million. That would be almost double the capacity of the world’s busiest airport last year, Atlanta.

But the opening was largely symbolic, as only a handful of flights will begin to operate in its first week. Istanbul’s existing Ataturk Airport will continue to operate as normal until the end of this year, when it will transfer its IATA airport code (IST) as its replacement begins to ramp up its capacity.

Turkish authorities plan to move all operations from one airport (Ataturk) to Istanbul New Airport in the space of a day – currently scheduled for the end of December. After that point, Ataturk airport will be closed to passenger traffic, but continue as a private airfield until its current lease expires in 2021.

Istanbul’s other, smaller airport, Sabiha Gokcen, is expected to remain operational into the foreseeable future. Lastly, a few facts and figures about Istanbul New Airport:

  • 6 runways
  • 16 taxiways
  • 150 million annual passenger capacity – expandable to 200 million
  • 1,500,000 m2 (16,000,000 sq ft) indoor area
  • 165 aircraft jet bridges
  • 4 terminal buildings, with rail access between terminals