Source: Airport Council International. 15 largest airports by passenger and freight activity.
Disruptions often cause a divergence between more resilient and less resilient systems. The COVID-19 pandemic was associated with a 45% decline in traffic for the world’s largest airports, while it was around 65% across all airports. It forced a quick rationalization of air services, with the largest airports retaining more connectivity than smaller airports. While China, the origin of the pandemic, was the first to be impacted by large-scale shutdowns of its air travel system, the pandemic turned out to be less of an impact on European and North American air travel. While in 2019, 4 of the 15 largest passenger airports were Chinese, this figure climbed to 9 out of 15 in 2020. The international passenger travel segment was the most impacted, with a 2020 decline of 70% compared to 2019. Discretionary demand, particularly tourism, was deeply curtailed.
Air cargo was much less impacted as volumes declined by 9% for the world’s airports but increased by 3% for the ten largest airports. Air cargo operations continued supporting essential supply chains as well as benefiting from the surge of online purchases. Major parcel hubs such as Memphis and Louisville saw ongoing growth, with Memphis surpassing Hong Kong, which has been, in recent years, the world’s largest air cargo hub.