Click here to read our updated list of the biggest airlines by revenue

Top Ten Airlines in 2020: Leading the Way

Aviation is one of the worst-hit industries by the Covid-19 pandemic due to travel restrictions imposed by the majority of countries.

Airport Technology lists the top ten airlines in 2020, based on 2019 revenues, and lists the measures being taken in 2020 to mitigate the impact of the pandemic.

The world’s biggest airlines: Top ten by revenue

1. Delta Airlines – $47bn

2. American Airlines Group – $45.7bn

3. United Airlines – $43.2bn

4. Lufthansa Group – $40.7bn

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5. AirFrance KLM Group – $30.45bn

6. International Airlines Group – $28.5bn

7. Emirates Group – $28.3bn

8. Southwest Airlines – $22.4bn

9. China Southern Airlines – $22bn

10. Air China – $19.4bn

1. Delta Airlines – $47bn

Top Airlines in the World
Delta Airlines plans to position itself as a smaller airline in the coming years to recover from the Covid-19 impact. Credit: NextNewMedia/Shutterstock.

Delta Airlines’ revenue grew by 7.5% year-on-year in 2019. The airline transported a record 204 million passengers in 2019 with 86.3% load factor and improved fuel efficiency by 2% through fleet renewal and other measures.

The carrier grounded more than 650 aircraft in the first quarter of 2020, due to Covid-19 restrictions. Enplaned passengers declined by 93%, while revenues fell by 91% in the second quarter of 2020 compared to the corresponding period in 2019.

Delta refunded more than $2.2bn in cash towards cancelled flights as of June 2020. The airline plans to position itself as a smaller and efficient player going forward, to recover from the COVID-19 impact. The company began to reduce its fleet of 898 aircraft with the retirement of the MD-88, MD-90, 777 and 737-700 fleet and some of the 767- 300ER and A320 aircraft in 2020.

It also plans to shorten its airport construction projects timeline to lower the investment and continue to launch voluntary separation and early retirement programmes.

Based in Georgia, US, Delta Airlines flies to 300 destinations in more than 50 countries. The airline employs more than 90,000 people.

2. American Airlines Group – $45.7bn

Top Airlines in the World
The revenue of American Airlines declined by 55% in the first half 2020, compared to the corresponding period in 2019. Credit: Philip Pilosian/Shutterstock.

American Airlines’ operating revenues grew by 2.8% year-on-year in 2019, driven by 3.3% growth in passenger revenue. The airline currently has a fleet of 942 aircraft including 24 Boeing 737 MAX aircraft.

A Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) order to ground all US-registered Boeing 737 MAX aircraft in March 2019 resulted in the cancellation of 27,600 flights by the carrier causing financial damage of approximately $540m in 2019.

The airline’s revenue in the first half of 2020 declined by 55% compared to the corresponding period in 2019, due to Covid-19.

To align with the demand decline during the pandemic, American Airlines accelerated the retirement of Boeing 757, Boeing 767, Airbus A330-300 and Embraer 190 fleet as well as certain regional aircraft including a few Embraer 140 and Bombardier CRJ200 aircraft.

It also plans to reduce the operational and capital expenditure by more than $15bn, primarily through capacity reductions in 2020.

Headquartered in Texas, US, American Airlines reaches 365 destinations in 61 countries.

3. United Airlines – $43.2bn

Top Airlines in the World
The cargo revenue of United Airlines increased by 36.3% in second quarter 2020. Credit: NextNewMedia/Shutterstock.

The revenues of United Airlines increased by 4.7% year-on-year in 2019. The airline set a record of the most mainline departures during the year, with approximately 800,000 departures. The airline had 777 mainline aircraft by December 2019 and is committed to buy new aircraft from Boeing, Airbus, and Embraer.

The Covid-19 pandemic, however, impacted the revenue in the first half of 2020, which fell by 55% versus the corresponding period in 2019. Cargo revenue, however, increased by 36.3% as a result of optimising the aircraft capacity and reducing the operational costs in the second quarter of 2020 by 69%.

United Airlines offered voluntary separation packages to its employees and raised a secured term loan facility of $250m during the first half of 2020 to stabilise its operations and mitigate the impact of Covid-19 pandemic.

Based in Illinois, US, United Airlines serves 362 airports across six continents. It is a member of Star Alliance, a global integrated airline network. The company employs approximately 96,000 people.

4. Lufthansa Group – $40.7bn

Top Airlines in the World
Lufthansa Group will reduce its fleet size by 100 aircraft and decrease its executive, management and administrative positions to mitigate the pandemic’s impact in the long-term. Credit: Nate Hovee/Shutterstock.

Lufthansa Group’s revenue in 2019 grew by 2.5% compared to the previous year, driven by the strong performance of Lufthansa German Airlines and SWISS on long-haul routes.

Revenues in the first half 2020 declined by 52% due to the impact of Covid-19. The flight and passenger traffic of the group declined by 94% and 96%, respectively, while its operating expenses fell by 34%.

In response to the situation, the company has agreed for several stabilisation measures and loans worth $10.6bn (€9bn) with the Federal Republic of Germany’s Economic Stabilisation Fund. The governments of Switzerland, Austria and Belgium will contribute to the stabilisation fund for their national airlines.

Europe’s biggest airline group, Lufthansa includes Network Airlines, Eurowings, and Aviation Services divisions. Network Airlines contains Lufthansa German Airlines, SWISS and Austrian Airlines, while Eurowings operates Eurowings and Brussels Airlines. The group operates a fleet of 760 aircraft.

5. AirFrance KLM Group – $30.45bn

Top Airlines in the World
Emirates made Covid-19 associated travel refunds worth $1.4bn until August 2020. Credit: The Emirates Group.

AirFrance KLM Group’s revenues increased by 3.7% year-on-year to $30.45bn (€27.2bn) in 2019. The total passengers carried by the airline increased by 2.7% during the year. The Group had a fleet of 555 aircraft as of June 2020.

Group revenues declined by 52.2% in the first half of 2020 due to Covid-19. Passengers carried fell by 95.1%, while load factor declined by 51.3% in the second quarter of 2020, compared to the corresponding period in 2019.

AirFrance KLM has received financial packages from the French and the Dutch governments to achieve its objectives in 2020. It had liquidity or credit lines worth $15.9bn (€14.2bn) as on 30 June 2020 to restructure its business and sail through the pandemic. The group has also reduced its capital expenditure plan to $2.3bn (€2.1bn) for 2020. The group expects to recover to the pre-crisis level by 2024.

AirFrance KLM Group is a European airline group that includes Air France, KLM Royal Dutch Airlines, and Transavia. The main business areas of the airline are passenger and cargo transport as well as aircraft maintenance. The airline covers more than 250 destinations and employs 83,000 people.

6. International Airlines Group (IAG) – $28.5bn

Top Airlines in the World
The revenue of AirFrance KLM Group declined by 52.2% in the first half of 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Credit: Hanohiki/Shutterstock.

IAG’s total revenue rose by 5.1% year-on-year to $28.5bn (€25.5bn), while operating profits declined by 5.7% to $3.6bn in 2019 due to British Airline Pilots’ Association’s (BALPA) industrial action and service disruptions. The airlines carried 118 million passengers in 2019, which was up by 4.7% compared to the previous year.

Most of the group’s aircraft were grounded in the second quarter of 2020, excluding few flights for repatriation and essential travel. Operational passenger capacity declined to 56.2% in the first half of 2020 compared to the same period in 2019.

Government wage support schemes along with other measures are being accessed to reduce employee costs during the Covid-19 crisis. The airline also postponed deliveries of 68 aircraft that were originally scheduled between 2020 and 2022 and retired 32 Boeing 747s and 15 Airbus A340-600s earlier than planned.

IAG extended the British Airways Revolving Credit Facility by one year to June 2021 and arranged other credit facilities within the group. It also agreed for an additional one-year aircraft financing facility worth $978.5m (€870m) for old and new aircraft, as part of measures to address the uncertainty created by the Covid-19 pandemic. The group anticipates the passenger demand to recover to the pre-pandemic level by 2023.

International Airlines Group manages the operations of British Airways, Iberia, Vueling, Aer Lingus, and LEVEL. A fleet of 598 aircraft was in service with the group by the end of 2019.

7. Emirates Group – $28.3bn

Top Airlines in the World
The passenger capacity operated of IAG declined by 56.2% in the first half of 2020. Credit: Tupungato/Shutterstock.

The Emirates Group recorded a 5% decline in revenue year-on-year, attributed to a 45-day closure of Dubai International Airport’s (DXB) southern runway and COVID-19 impact in the financial year 2019-2020 ending in March 2020.

The moderate airfreight demand and intense competition in key markets impacted the revenues. The Group’s profit declined by 28% year-on-year to $456m (AED1.7bn). It invested $3.2bn (AED11.7bn) in new aircraft, equipment, acquisitions, modern facilities and technologies as well as employee initiatives during the year.

Emirates returned travel refunds worth $1.4bn associated with Covid-19 by August 2020. The airline is offering its passengers free cover for Covid-19 medical expenses and quarantine costs, irrespective of class of travel or destination, in an effort to regain customer’s confidence.

Based in Dubai, UAE, Emirates Group manages two independent entities, Emirates and DNATA. Emirates serves 155 airports in 81 countries, while DNATA deals with cargo and ground management, catering, and travel services. DNATA serves 320 airline customers in 37 countries.

8. Southwest Airlines – $22.4bn

Top Airlines in the World
Southwest Airlines parked more than 400 aircraft including the MAX aircraft during the Covid-19 pandemic. Credit: Markus Mainka/Shutterstock.

Southwest Airlines’ revenue increased by 2.1% year-on-year to $22.4bn in 2019 despite an estimated $828m reduction in operating income due to the grounding of its Boeing 737 MAX aircraft. The airline had a fleet of 747 Boeing 737 aircraft along with 34 Boeing 737 MAX 8 aircraft, as of December 2019.

Operating revenue declined by 52.6% in the first half of 2020 compared to the corresponding period in 2019. Operating expenses declined by 50.6%, excluding fuel and oil expense, during the period.

Southwest Airlines is supported by the Payroll Support Programme (PSP) funds from the US Treasury under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act). It has parked more than 400 aircraft including the 737 MAX aircraft due to the impact of Covid-19.

Based in Texas, US, Southwest Airlines covers 101 destinations in 11 countries. The company employs more than 60,000 people.

9. China Southern Airlines – $22bn

Top Airlines in the World
China Southern Airlines was ranked first in Asia and third in the world in terms of fleet size and passenger turnover in 2019. Credit: Markus Mainka/Shutterstock.

China Southern Airlines recorded 7.4% revenue growth year-on-year, in 2019. The growth is attributed to the rise in capacity and traffic volume.

The airlines had a fleet of 862 aircraft as of December 2019. It was ranked first in Asia and third in the world by fleet size and passenger turnover in 2019.

Impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic, the operating revenue of the airlines decreased by 46.5%, while the operating expenses declined by 31.9% in the first half of 2020 versus the corresponding period in 2019.

The business strategies are being adjusted and cost management measures boosted to effectively address the challenges.

Based in Guangzhou, China, China Southern Airlines operates eight public air transportation subsidiaries, including Xiamen Air, Henan Airlines, Guizhou Airlines and Zhuhai Airlines. The airline covers 224 destinations in 40 countries.

10. Air China – $19.4bn

Top Airlines in the World
Air China reported a 54.6% decline in total revenue in the first half of 2020. Credit: Lukas Wunderlich/Shutterstock.

Air China posted $19.4bn in revenue in 2019, representing a year-on-year decrease of 0.43%, attributed to decline in air traffic revenue.

The airline reported a 54.6% decline in revenue and 61.47% decline in the total air passenger traffic in the first half of 2020, compared to the corresponding period in 2019. It had a fleet of 700 aircraft with an average lifespan of 6.96 years, as of June 2020.

Air passenger revenue shrunk by 58.95% from Mainland China, the biggest contributing geographical segment for the airline, followed by International as well as Hong Kong SAR, Macau SAR and Taiwan, and China passengers, accounting for a decline of 64.14% and 81.56%, respectively, in the first half of 2020.

Air China is adjusting its operation strategies, preventing operation risks, and utilising the market opportunities to minimise the Covid-19 pandemic impact.

Based in Beijing, China, Air China is a Star Alliance member airline flying to 43 countries. The airline has been selected as an official partner for the Beijing 2022 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games.