Passenger traffic at the world’s top ten busiest airports – including Beijing and Atlanta – fell by almost 46% in 2020. The decrease across all airports was 64.6% due to the uneven impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Airports Council International (ACI) World today published preliminary data for 2020 on passenger traffic, aircraft movements and cargo volumes.

Despite the fall in numbers, the Chinese airport of Guangzhou received the most passengers at 43.7 million, closely followed by Atlanta’s Hartfield with 42.9 million.

“The impact of the Covid-19 on global passenger traffic pandemic brought aviation to a virtual standstill in 2020 and we continue to face an existential threat,” ACI World Director General Luis Felipe de Oliveira said in a statement.

“The data published today reveals the challenge airports continue to face and it remains imperative that the industry is supported through direct support and sensible policy decisions from governments to ensure that aviation can endure, rebuild connectivity, and fuel a global economic recovery.”

The ACI World data also highlighted that there were only 58 million aircraft movements in 2020, a fall of 43% compared with 2019. In the top ten airports, only 4.2 million movements were registered.

“Airports are economic generators, bringing socio-economic benefits and jobs to the communities they serve, and governments need to provide the necessary financial alleviation and assistance to suit local circumstances.”

According to Oliveira, the data shows that in different regions aviation coped with the pandemic differently and that requires policy decision and support from governments.

“With some positive signs of recovery, especially in countries with high rates of vaccination, a sustained global recovery will only be realised with an escalation of vaccination campaigns, the continued development of digital health passes, and coordinated and cohesive policy support from governments,” he added.

Compared with global passenger traffic and movements, air cargo volumes were less impacted, actually growing by 3% in the top ten airports. Experts say the reason might be linked to a growth in demand for consumer goods during the lockdown and the increase in pharmaceutical products and personal protective equipment used worldwide to face the pandemic.