Driven by freight, the air sector consolidated its recovery in 2021

In 2021, there were over 69 million aircraft movements worldwide, and air cargo was once again the big bearer of good news. Passenger traffic recovered from poor 2020 figures but remained below figures from 2019, the year before the pandemic hit.

A book published today by the World Airports Council International (ACI World) reports “encouraging signs of traffic recovery” after Covid-19 plunged the sector into the worst crisis in its history.

Due to ACI’s reach as the world’s airport trade association (it has 717 members, operating at 1,950 airports in 185 countries), the report reflects the most recent airport data used by the industry and includes passenger traffic, cargo volumes and aircraft movements.


Air freight – which has been the “savior” of many airlines during the pandemic – increased its volumes by around 15% year on year in 2021 (it increased by 3.5% if the comparison is made with the figures of 2019), reaching an estimated record 124 million metric tons last year.

Air cargo volumes at the top 10 airports, which collectively account for approximately 25% (31.5 million metric tons) of global volumes in 2021, increased 12.1% last year on an annual basis (15% compared to 2019 results). The gain can be attributed to the continued rise in demand for consumer goods and pharmaceuticals online.

Hong Kong International Airport (HKG, 5m tonnes, +12.5%) regained first place and Memphis International Airport (MEM, 4.5m tonnes, -2.9%) is returned to second place, followed by Shanghai Pudong International Airport (PVG , 4 million tonnes, +8%) in third place.

With the operation of 5 million metric tons, Hong Kong International Airport has regained the top spot in the world cargo rankings.

Passenger traffic

It is estimated that the total number of passengers worldwide in 2021 will approach 4.5 billion, an increase of almost 25% compared to 2020, but a decrease of more than 50% compared to the results of 2019.

Passenger traffic at the 10 busiest airports, which together account for almost 10% of global traffic (463 million passengers), was up 51.8% compared to 2020, but down 29.1% compared to 2020. compared to 2019 results.

Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (ATL, 75.7m passengers, +76.4%) topped the rankings again in 2021, followed by Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport (DFW, 62 .5 million passengers, +58.7%) and Denver International Airport (DEN, 58.8 million passengers, +74.4%).

After reaching first place in 2020, Guangzhou Baiyun International Airport (CAN, 40.3 million passengers, -8%) fell to eighth position in 2021.

North American Branch

Eight of the top 10 airports by passenger traffic are in the United States and the other two in China.

The top 10 airports have a significant share of domestic traffic, the traffic segment that has led the global recovery.

The strongest improvement recorded is that of Orlando International Airport (MCO, 40.4 million passengers, +86.7%) which rose from 27th position in 2020 to 7th position in 2021.

Orlando International Airport is the most improved airport in the world. A hotspot for global entertainment tourism, last year 40.4 million passengers passed through this terminal, 86.7% more than in 2020.

“ACI World’s passenger traffic rankings tell the story of an encouraging recovery trend, with many of the busiest pre-Covid-19 recurring airports back at the top,” said ACI’s CEO World, Luis Felipe de Oliveira.


“While we are cautious that the recovery could face multiple headwinds, the momentum created by countries’ reopening plans could lead to a rebound in travel in the second half of 2022,” de Oliveira assessed, adding that is precisely why ACI World is advocating for governments to track data and ease travel restrictions to safely restore the flow of people, goods and services.

This will provide travelers with more travel options and drive the global recovery through aviation’s unique role in boosting trade, tourism, investment and job creation. .

More than 69 million movements

ACI World estimates that more than 69 million aircraft movements took place worldwide in 2021, representing an increase of more than 12% compared to 2020.

The top 10 airports represent nearly 8% of global traffic (5.3 million movements) and experienced a gain of 33.9% over one year, which still represents a decrease of 16.1% compared to 2019.

Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (ATL, 708,000 movements, +29.1%) leads the way, followed by Chicago O’Hare International Airport (ORD, 684,000, +27.1%) and Chicago O’Hare International Airport (ORD, 684,000, +27.1%) Dallas/Fort Worth (DFW, 652,000, +26.7%).

The top 10 airports in terms of aircraft movements are in the United States.

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