MIAMI – Traffic at Guangzhou Baiyun International Airport (CAN) surpassed Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson Airport (ATL) by 1.1 million passengers in 2020.

CAN, the major airport of Guangzhou, Guangdong province, in Southern China, and the main hub of China Southern Airlines and a focus city for Shenzhen Airlines, handled nearly 43.8 million passengers last year, according to the new preliminary airport traffic rankings released by Airports Council International (ACI) World.

This is a 40.4% decrease from 2019, but due to the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic on passenger traffic at other airports across the world, the number was sufficient to take first place in the rankings.

With 42.9 million passengers, ATL, Delta Air Lines’ (DL) primary hub and historically the world’s busiest airport, fell to second place. The drop amounted to a 61.2% decrease from 2019.

Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson Airport. Photo: Matthew Calise/Airways

Chinese Airports Lead 2020 Top Ten


As per the data, China had seven of the top ten busiest airports last year, unsurprising due to the country’s massive domestic market. Chengdu (CTU) improved from 24th to third place in 2020, while Shenzhen (SZX) improved from 26th to fifth place.

The top-ten airport ranking also included Beijing (PEK), Kunming (KMG), Shanghai Hongqiao (SHA), and Xi’an (XIY). US-based Dallas-Fort Worth (DFW) and Denver (DEN) took the final two spots.

As for international passenger traffic, Dubai International (DXB) retained its place as the number one airport after handling 25.8 million passengers in 2020, a figure down 70.1% when compared to 2019. Amsterdam (AMS) ranked second and London Heathrow (LHR) third, despite year-on-year reductions of 70.9% and 72.8% respectively.

China Cargo Airlines B-2425 Boeing 747-40BF(ER). Photo: Misael Ocasio Hernandez/Airways

2020 Global Passenger, Cargo Traffic


According to ATC, global passenger traffic at the world’s top 10 busiest airports fell by -45.7% in 2020 while traffic at all international airports fell by -64.6%.

In addition, there were 58 million global aircraft movements in 2020, down 43% from 2019. The top ten airports account for 7% of global traffic (4.2 million movements), a decrease of -34.3% from 2019. After leading in 2019 and 2018, ATL exceeded Chicago O’Hare (ORD).

As previously reported, COVID-19 had a smaller effect on air freight, with volumes falling by just -8.9% to an estimated 109 million metric tonnes in 2020, roughly equal to 2016 levels. Cargo volumes in the top ten airports increased by 3% in 2020 due to an uptick in online shopping and the shipment of medical goods, with the aforementioned airports accounting for about 28% of global volumes.


Featured image: Skystage of Guangzhou Baiyun International Airport Terminal 2. Photo: Jacky Cheung, CC BY-SA 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0, via Wikimedia Commons