World's busiest airport: The pandemic has yielded a new No. 1

(CNN) – Seven of the ten busiest airports in the world in 2020 were in China, while the formerly busiest airport in the world – Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport in the US – fell to number two in the ranking for 22 consecutive years.

Guangzhou Baiyun International Airport in China was the busiest airport in the world in 2020 and rose from 11th in 2019 to 1st place, according to preliminary figures released on Thursday by the airport trade organization Airports Council International (ACI).

Dramatic shifts in the top 10 list of passenger numbers – and the decimation of global air traffic overall – are of course due to the Covid-19 pandemic, which continues to disrupt travel around the globe.

Guangzhou recorded 43.8 million passengers in 2020, a 40% decrease from 2019. Atlanta had 42.9 million passengers last year, a steep 61% decrease from 2019.

According to Patrick Lucas, vice president of economics at ACI World, Atlanta’s fall from the top spot is likely to be temporary.

“As the industry recovers, we expect ATL to be back at the top in the years to come,” said Lucas.

The airports in the Chinese cities of Chengdu, Shenzhen, Kunming, Shanghai and Xi’an were also in the top 10 in 2020 and rose to 46th place (Shanghai’s Hongqiao International Airport) from 2019 to enter the top 10.

Beijing Capital International Airport, often number 2 and that seat in 2019, fell to number 6 on the 2020 list.

Passengers walk between terminals at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport on April 20, 2020 in Atlanta, Georgia.

Rob Carr / Getty Images North America / Getty Images

Global air traffic crashes

In 2020, global air passenger traffic fell by almost 65%, according to ACI. Passenger traffic at the 10 busiest airports fell by almost 46% in 2020.

“The data released today shows the challenges airports continue to face, and it remains imperative that the industry is backed by direct support and sensible policy choices from governments to ensure that aviation continues, restores connectivity and is global drives economic recovery, “said ACI’s General Director of the World, Luis Felipe de Oliveira, said in a statement.

“The results show that when different regions face different challenges and require different policy choices and government support to lay the groundwork for recovery, the effects remain uneven,” he said.

According to Lucas, ACI does not expect global passenger traffic to recover to 2019 levels before 2024.

In addition to Atlanta, two other airports in the USA made it into the top 10: Dallas / Fort Worth International in 4th place (compared to 10th place in 2019) and Denver International in 7th place (compared to 16th place in 2019).

In 2020, no European airports were in the top 10; London and Paris made the list in 2019. Dubai and Tokyo also fell off the list in 2020.

Domestic air travel

ACI found that domestic air traffic is gradually recovering in many places, while international air traffic remains severely restricted.

China’s strong performance in the top 10 is due in part to less restricted domestic travel in China, where the novel coronavirus emerged in late 2019 and was aggressively beaten back with strict bans.

The nation is the second largest domestic travel market in the world after the United States.

According to Lucas, international travel in China is still severely restricted, forcing many travelers who may have traveled internationally to travel within China.

With some signs of recovery emerging, ACI’s market leader highlighted several key components for further improvement.

“A sustainable global recovery will only be achieved through escalating vaccination campaigns, continued development of digital health passports and coordinated and coherent political support from governments,” said ACI Director General de Oliveira.

Busiest airports in 2020 for passenger traffic

1. Guangzhou (CAN) – 43.8 million passengers in 2020; Traffic decreased by 40% from 2019

2. Atlanta (ATL) – 42.9 million passengers in 2020; Traffic decreased by 61% from 2019

3. Chengdu (CTU) – 40.7 million passengers in 2020; Traffic decreased by 27% from 2019

4th Dallas / Fort Worth (DFW) – – 39.4 million passengers in 2020; Traffic decreased by 48% from 2019

5. Shenzhen (SZX) – 37.9 million passengers in 2020; Traffic decreased by 28% from 2019

6th Beijing (PEK) – 34.5 million passengers in 2020; Traffic decreased by 66% from 2019

7th Denver (DEN) – 33.7 million passengers in 2020; Traffic decreased by 51% from 2019

8th. Kunming (KMG) – 33 million passengers in 2020; Traffic decreased by 31% from 2019

9. Shanghai (SHA) – 31.2 million passengers in 2020; Traffic decreased by 32% from 2019

10. Xi’an (XIY) – 31.1 million passengers in 2020; Traffic decreased by 34% from 2019