In what seemed like a bad year, top 20 airports saw 3.9% cargo decline in 2019

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Cargo volume at the world’s busiest 20 airports declined -3.9 per cent in the full-year 2019, in what was considered a challenging year, only to be upended early into 2020.

All told, the top 20 handled a combined 48 million tonnes of cargo in 2019, in Airports Council International (ACI) World’s global airport traffic rankings.

While Hong Kong (HKG) retained its crown as the busiest cargo airport in the world, handling 4.8 million tonnes of cargo in 2019, it none-the-less experienced a decline in volume of -6.1 per cent compared to 2018.

Memphis Airport (MEM), FedEx’s main hub, came in second place and Shanghai Airport (PVG) came in third.

cargotraffic ACI

But with Covid-19 shutting down the global passenger sector and with it, sucking nearly nearly half of all global cargo capacity down with it, all three experienced considerable declines in the first quarter of 2020, although passenger bellies are significantly less a factor for MEM.

On the other hand, Louisville Airport (SDF), home hub of UPS, and Incheon (ICN) both recorded growth in cargo during the first stages of the COVID-19 outbreak.

Aircraft movements grew by +1.5 per cent in 2019 for the top 20 airports. Chicago O’Hare (ORD) remained the busiest airport in the world for aircraft movements, with Atlanta-Hartsfield-Jackson Airport (ATL) coming in a close second. Both, predictably, saw movements decrease in the first quarter of 2020.

Cargo airports 2019

Meanwhile, passenger traffic at the world’s top 20 busiest airports grew by 1.7 per cent in 2019. With more than 1.5 billion passengers passing through their terminals, this group of 20 represented 17 per cent of global passenger traffic.

The ongoing COVID-19 crisis, however, has brought airports around the world to a virtual standstill, resulting in airport traffic and revenue losses across all regions. ACI World now estimates a reduction of more than 4.6 billion passengers and more than USD 97 billion in revenue for 2020.

The combined 2019 and 2020 data shows the dramatic decline in air travel in the first quarter of 2020. In the top five, Beijing Airport notably experienced a -62.6 per cent decline in passenger traffic but large decreases were also recorded across other top 20 airports in Asia-Pacific as the COVID-19 outbreak began to take hold in that region.

cargo airports ACI

“ACI data shows that the outbreak of COVID-19 had a dramatic and immediate impact on the world’s airports and the wider aviation ecosystem,” ACI World director general Angela Gittens says. “From a period of sustained passenger traffic growth in 2019, the industry is now in survival mode, crippled by the loss of passenger traffic and revenues.

“This year will pose major and unprecedented challenges for the industry as the impacts of travel restrictions and lockdown measures introduced in response to the pandemic remain an existential threat to the aviation industry unless governments can provide appropriate relief and assistance.

“Airports are critical in the air transport ecosystem which is a key driver of local, regional and national economies. Financial relief and assistance is urgently needed,” Gittens says.

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