Airports Council International (ACI) World has published its annual World Airport Traffic Dataset, confirming global air traffic rankings for the full year 2021.

“2021 represents the beginning of the aviation industry’s recovery,” said ACI World director general Luis Felipe de Oliveira.

“While some of the perennial busiest airport leaders have re-joined upper ranks, other regions struggle to recover, leading to new entrants in the top 20. With many countries taking steps towards the return of a certain normality, lifting almost all the health measures and travel restrictions as supported by science, we welcome the continuation of air travel demand’s recovery in 2022, despite certain headwinds.”

Passenger traffic

In 2021, the world’s airports accommodated 4.6 billion passengers, representing an increase of 28.3% from 2020 or a drop of 49.5% from 2019 results. The top 20 airports, representing 19% of global traffic (863 million passengers), experienced a gain of 42.9% from 2020 or a drop of 31.9% vis-à-vis their 2019 results (1.27 billion passengers in 2019).

The top three spots go to US airports. Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (75.7 million passengers, +76.4%) is back on the top of the 2021 rankings, followed by Dallas Fort Worth (62.5 million passengers, +58.7%) and Denver (58.8 million passengers, +74.4%). Domestic traffic represents 65% to 100% of total passengers for almost all of the top 20 hubs. The only exception is Istanbul International Airport, with a larger international traffic share (72% of passenger traffic).

Air cargo

Air cargo volumes increased by 15.4% year-on-year (+4.5% versus 2019), to a record 125 million metric tonnes in 2021. Air cargo volumes in the top 20 airports, representing around 44% (54.8 million metric tonnes) of the global volumes in 2021, gained 14.7% in 2021 year-on-year or 13.4% versus 2019. The gain can be attributed to improved economic conditions driving an increase in demand for consumer goods and pharmaceutical products (such as personal protective equipment and vaccines).

Hong Kong (5.0 million metric tonnes, +12.5%) regained top rank from Memphis (4.5 million metric tonnes, -2.9%) which inched back to second position, followed by Shanghai (4 million metric tonnes, +8.0%) in third. Compared to pre-pandemic levels, the biggest jump in the top 20 rankings was seen by Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport, which improved its position by seven spots, from 18th in 2019 to 11th in 2021.

Aircraft movements

2021 global aircraft movements are close to 74 million, representing a gain of 18.7% from 2020 results or -28.2% versus 2019. The top 20 airports, representing 12% of global traffic (8.7 million movements), witnessed a gain of 27.9% from their 2020 results or a drop of 15.7% vis-à-vis their 2019 results (10.3 million in 2019).

Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport is at the top, with 708,000 movements (+29.1% from 2020), but still below its 2019 result of 904,000 movements (-21.7%). O’Hare is in second place and Dallas Fort Worth in third.

The World Airport Traffic Dataset features airport traffic for over 2,600 airports in more than 180 countries and territories.