The busiest airports in the world of 2019 face a great challenge

The busiest airports in the world of 2019 face a great challenge

(CNN) – The list of the busiest airports in the world is out for 2019, highlighting how precipitously air travel has plummeted amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The figures, released Tuesday by the Airports Council International airport trade association, show that passenger traffic at the top 20 busiest airports in the world grew 1.7% in 2019.

But it was before the Covid-19 crisis brought airports around the world to a standstill.

“The demand has practically disappeared,” said Angela Gittens, general manager of ACI World. Traffic has declined by more than 90%, he said, and border restrictions and long quarantine for travelers are in place in many places.

The ACI estimates that 4.6 billion fewer passengers will pass through airports in 2020, with a $ 97 billion reduction in revenue.

Passengers wait to board a flight at Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport on April 20, 2020.

Rob Carr / Getty Images

The world’s busiest airport, Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, has seen 110.5 million passengers in 2019.

In the first quarter of 2020, Atlanta airport recorded 20.7 million passengers, down more than 18% from the same period last year.

The most marked drop in passenger traffic in the first quarter of 2020 appeared in China, where the new coronavirus emerged. Beijing Capital International Airport reported a 62.6% drop in passengers in the first three months of 2020.

Beijing Capital International Airport was the second busiest airport in the world in passenger traffic in 2019, with 100 million passengers. Los Angeles International Airport was the third busiest with over 88 million passengers last year and a 21.7% drop in traffic due to coronavirus.

Chicago O’Hare remained the busiest airport in the world in 2019 for take-offs and landings, with Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta Airport in second place.

The challenges for airports

Many of an airport’s costs – such as maintenance and security – are fixed, even when there are no entrances. “You can’t park your track. You still have to keep it,” said Gittens.

“The challenge, really, is to survive,” he said of what the world’s airports are facing.

That’s why airports are actively seeking aid from governments in the form of tax exemptions, concession fees and capital investment requirements. Governments need the connection that their air transport systems provide to recover economically, Gittens said.

“We’re still in the tunnel … We haven’t seen any light yet. We don’t know how long it will last at this level,” he said.

And in cases where reopenings are not coordinated and rational, Gittens fears a resurgence of the disease or that people will be too afraid to travel because of the perceived risk.

An almost empty terminal is pictured at Beijing Capital International Airport on April 13, 2020. In 2019, it was the second busiest airport in the world.

An almost empty terminal is pictured at Beijing Capital International Airport on April 13, 2020. In 2019, it was the second busiest airport in the world.

NICOLAS ASFOURI / AFP / AFP via Getty Images

Have air traffic shift again

Security – for passengers and airport staff – is paramount and is what airports claim to be working with airlines and governments.

These measures include personal protective equipment for staff and mask the requirements for passengers, as well as physical changes to airports to adapt to social distances.

With passenger volume so low right now, keeping social distance is feasible, said Gittens. “But this won’t be sustainable. It doesn’t take many flights at the same time before you can no longer practice social distance.”

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So masks and thorough hygiene measures for high touch surfaces will be essential. ACI has compiled a set of operating practices adopted by global airports to help guide airports’ response to coronavirus.

Resuming air travel safely isn’t going to be a one-off proposition for everyone, Gittens said. How to resume operations should be adapted to the prevalence of the virus in the area.

Los Angeles International Airport on April 16, 2020. In 2019, LAX was the third busiest airport in the world.

Los Angeles International Airport on April 16, 2020. In 2019, LAX was the third busiest airport in the world.

Valerie Macon / AFP / Getty Images

Manage the “passenger hassle factor”

If the virus is somehow contained or contained, the mitigation measures will be different than if the virus is still spreading widely.

“There is a certain annoyance factor for passengers that will have to be in place for protection, but we don’t want to keep the hassle when it is no longer needed,” said Gittens.

“The line will be out of the door if you continue to distance yourself once you start having a few more flights. Passengers will have to come to the airport four hours early because of the line … but we don’t want to keep it anymore than necessary, “he said.

So airports will be constantly consulted with health officials and when tests become more widespread, test results could help alleviate some of the other mitigation measures, said Gittens.

In 2019, LAX saw 88 million passengers.

In 2019, LAX saw 88 million passengers.

Mark Ralston / AFP / Getty Images

ACI has collaborated with governments in an effort to achieve a more contactless travel experience, with more facial recognition and iris recognition and less touchscreens and shared documents.

But in the meantime, all those high touch areas need careful and frequent cleaning.

Even before the pandemic, ACI was working on a project called Smart security, which focuses on having fewer checkpoints at airports and more fluid and digital methods of controlling people.

Because everywhere passengers have to stop means lines and crowds, said Gittens.

And right now, that also means more anxiety for travelers.

Here are the busiest airports in 2019 by passenger volume and how much their traffic decreased in early 2020:

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The 10 busiest airports in the world by passenger volume in 2019

1. Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International (ATL) – 110.5 million passengers

2. Beijing Capital International (PEK) – 100 million

3. Los Angeles International (LAX) – 88.1 million

4. Dubai International (DXB) – 86.4 million

5. Tokyo International (Haneda) (HND) – 85.5 million

6. Chicago O’Hare International (ORD) – 84.6 million

7. London Heathrow (LHR) – 80.9 million

8. Shanghai Pudong International (PVG) – 76.2 million

9. Paris-Charles de Gaulle (CDG) – 76.2 million

10. Dallas / Fort Worth International (DFW) – 75.1 million

Pandemic impact: the first quarter of 2020 decreases compared to the first quarter of 2019

1. Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International (ATL) -18.2%

2. Beijing Capital International (PEK) -62.6%

3. Los Angeles International (LAX) -21.7%

4. Dubai International (DXB) -19.9%

5. Tokyo International (Haneda) (HND) -28.5%

6. Chicago O’Hare International (ORD) – n.a.

7. London Heathrow (LHR) -18.3%

8. Shanghai Pudong International (PVG) -57.1%

9. Paris-Charles de Gaulle (CDG) -20.6%

10. Dallas / Fort Worth International (DFW) -12.3%

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