Chinese Airports Drop Out of the Top 10 as Traffic Normalizes

Kevin Rozario


April 5, 2023

mod LR guangzhou airport andreas felske unsplash

Guangzhou Airport is no longer ranked among the world's Top 10 airports.

© Andreas Felske/Unsplash

The passenger traffic ranking of the Top 10 airports around the world has started to look a bit more familiar again—a sign that international air travel is returning to normal after the COVID crisis.

The leading four gateways in 2022—all hubs in the United States—remained the same as the prior year according to just-released data from airports association Airports Council International World (ACI). Atlanta (ATL) retained the top spot followed by Dallas/Fort Worth (DFW), Denver (DEN), and Chicago O’Hare (ORD).

Thereafter there have been some major shifts versus 2021 (see charts), reflecting how the global travel market has begun to recover, and in which regions the recovery has been fastest and slowest. However, it is worth noting that only DEN has seen traffic return to 2019 levels, with half of the top 10 airports still off by 20% or more.

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The Top 10 airports in 2022 reflect the return of international travel.

© ACI World

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The Top 10 in 2021 reflected a world that was driven by domestic travel.

© ACI World

International Travel Boosts Top 10 Mix

In 2021, two Chinese airports made it into the top 10: Guangzhou (CAN) and Chengdu (CTU) in 8th and 9th places respectively as domestic travel increased in China at a time when travel outside the country was prohibited. However, various COVID outbreaks last year put the brakes on internal travel as infections and deaths soared in the second half, and both airports dropped out of the Top 10.

Meanwhile in the Middle East, Dubai International (DXB), has sprung back to 5th place. The Emirates hub crashed to 27th place in 2021 because it is almost solely an international gateway and was largely shut down during the pandemic.

Istanbul (IST) has made continuous gains throughout the health crisis and ranked 7th last year from 14th in 2021 while India’s New Delhi Airport (DEL) is a newcomer to the Top 10 in 9th place, having ranked 13th last year, and 17th pre-pandemic.

Heathrow Sees Biggest Rebound

London Heathrow (LHR) made the most spectacular return to the Top 10 in 8th spot from 54th in 2021, reflecting the strong appetite for travel from the UK and the gateway’s position as a global commercial and financial center.

ACI World Director General Luis Felipe de Oliveira said: “The new Top 10 busiest airports for passenger traffic reflects the resilience of the airport and aviation industry, and the eagerness of passengers to travel by air. While US airport hubs were able to recover quicker due to their strong domestic market, we are now witnessing global hubs joining the upper ranks—including Dubai, Istanbul, and London Heathrow.”

ACI’s preliminary figures indicate that the resumption of international travel in 2022 enabled global passenger traffic to reach close to seven billion, an increase of over 50% from 2021, or a 74% recovery from 2019 results. The top 10 airports for total passenger traffic, did a bit better with an 86% recovery versus 2019.

De Oliveira commented: “While we continue to march forward cautiously amidst multiple headwinds that could impact the speed and magnitude of global air traffic recovery, the latest rankings represent an important milestone in reaching pre-pandemic levels. The re-opening of China, the second largest aviation market after the US, is now expected to bring an overall gain, both domestically and for international travel.”