Atlanta dethroned as world's busiest airport

COVID-19 has brought an end to Atlanta's crown as the world's busiest airport in terms of passenger traffic. And it was not Chicago O'Hare or Dubai, its previous closest challengers, but Guangzhou Baiyun Airport that is now number one.

The city of Guangzhou may be more familiar to you as Canton, the name long used by Westerners for the city that dominates the Peral River Delta in Southern China, about 85 miles north of Hong Kong.  The Pearl River Delta is now considered the world's most populous conurbation and the biggest manufacturing center in the world, following decades of outsourcing manufacturing to China.

Terminal 2 at Guangzhou Baiyun International Airport.
Photo credit: Jacky Cheung CC BY-SA 4.0 license.

Patrick Clarke reports in Travel Pulse:

Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport has been unseated as the world's busiest airport after 22 consecutive years in the top spot.

According to new figures released by airport trade organization Airports Council International (ACI), China's Guangzhou Baiyun International Airport was the world's busiest in 2020 while ATL fell to number two. What's more, Chinese airports accounted for seven of the world's top 10 busiest airports last year.

The second surprise there, the fact that China's airports take seven of the top ten slots for the busiest airports in the world, is even more significant.  Part of the surge is because the pandemic that originated in China has devastated other countries' business travel, the core of the airline industry's traffic, while China's economy has bounced back much faster.  (Why that is the case ought to be a central political issue of our time.)  But the second element of the rise is because China's vast population now can afford air travel for both business and pleasure, and China has a large number of massive cities that only now are beginning to resemble cities in other advanced countries in terms of the propensity to travel by air.  In the future, China undoubtedly will be the world's biggest air travel market.

Boeing and Airbus understand this well, as does China, which is planning to break into the airliner manufacturing duopoly, starting with its Comac C919 airliner, aimed squarely at the massive market segment occupied by the Boeing 737 and Airbus A320 families of twin-engine, single-aisle airliners.

This isn't to say that air travel in China wasn't affected by the pandemic; it was simply affected less:

ACI data shows that passenger traffic around the world fell by nearly 65 percent last year amid the COVID-19 pandemic, with passenger traffic at the 10 busiest airports in 2020 dropping by nearly 46 percent.

Guangzhou led the way with 43.8 million passengers in 2020. However, that figure was still down an incredible 40 percent from 2019, when the airport ranked 11th busiest globally. Meanwhile, ATL saw just 42.9 million passengers in 2020, a figure that signaled a remarkable 61 percent drop from 2019.

For the record, here are 2020's top ten airports:

—Guangzhou (CAN)—43.8 million passengers (down 40 percent from 2019)

—Atlanta (ATL)—42.9 million passengers (down 61 percent)

—Chengdu (CTU)—40.7 million passengers (down 27 percent)

—Dallas/Fort Worth (DFW)—39.4 million passengers (down 48 percent)

—Shenzhen (SZX)—37.9 million passengers (down 28 percent)

—Beijing (PEK)—34.5 million passengers (down 66 percent)

—Denver (DEN)—33.7 million passengers (down 51 percent)

—Kunming (KMG)—33 million passengers (down 31 percent)

—Shanghai (SHA) —31.2 million passengers (down 32 percent)

—Xi'an (XIY)—31.1 million passengers (down 34 percent)

Note that number 5, Shenzhen, is part of the Pearl River Delta, a neighbor of Guangzhou.

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