Guangzhou Baiyun International Airport in China has been the world’s busiest airport in 2020, increasing to the No. 1 place from its No. 11 ranking in 2019, according to preliminary statistics released Thursday by airport trade business Airports Council International (ACI).
Dramatic shifts in the top 10 list for passenger figures — and the decimation of international air traffic overall — is of course due to the Covid-19 pandemic that continues to interrupt travel throughout the world. Atlanta had 42.9 million passengers last year, a precipitous 61% drop from 2019.
Atlanta’s fall from the top slot is anticipated to be temporary, according to Patrick Lucas, ACI World’s vice president for economics.
“While the business recovers, we anticipate ATL to retake its place at the top in the next several years,” Lucas said.
Beijing Capital International Airport, which has often held the No. 2 ranking and held that spot in 2019, dropped to No. 6 on the 2020 list.

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Global air traffic plunges
In 2020, air passenger traffic round the globe fell by nearly 65%, according to ACI figures. Passenger traffic at the 10 busiest airports in 2020 fell by almost 46 percent.
“The information published today reveals that the challenge airports continue to face, and it remains imperative that the business is backed through direct assistance and sensible policy choices from authorities to ensure that aviation may survive, rebuild connectivity, and gas that a global economic recovery,” ACI World Director General Luis Felipe de Oliveira said in a statement.
“The findings reveal that the effect remains uneven with various regions experiencing distinct challenges and requiring different policy choices and support from governments to lay the foundation for healing,” he said.
ACI does not anticipate global passenger traffic to recover to 2019 amounts before 2024, according to Lucas.
Along with Atlanta, two additional airports in the United States made it to the top 10: Dallas/Fort Worth International at No. 4 (up from No. 10 at 2019) and Denver International in No. 7 (up from No. 16 in 2019). Dubai and Tokyo also fell off the list in 2020.
Domestic aviation
ACI noted that domestic aviation is beginning to rebound in several places, while international air travel remains heavily restricted.
China’s strong showing in the top 10 is due in part to broadly restricted domestic travel in China, in which the novel coronavirus appeared in late 2019 and was harshly beaten back with stringent lockdowns.
The nation is the world’s second-largest national travel market, following the United States.
International travel in China is still highly restricted, Lucas noted, forcing many travelers who have traveled internationally to travel within China.
While a few signs of recovery are emerging, ACI’s leader emphasized several critical components for continued advancement.
“A sustained global recovery is only going to be realized with an escalation of vaccination campaigns, the continuing evolution of digital wellbeing moves and coordinated and cohesive policy support from authorities,” ACI Director General de Oliveira said.