Airports Council International World (ACI World) this week published its 2021 Airport Traffic Dataset, revealing the magnitude of the aviation industry’s recovery, with Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (ATL) ( 75.7 million passengers, up 76.4 percent); Dallas Forth Worth (DFW) (62.5 million passengers, up 58.7 percent); and Denver International (DEN) (58.8 million passengers, up 74.4 percent) holding the top three spots for passenger traffic for the year.

ACI-World added Hong Kong International (HKG) (5.0 million metric tons, up 12.5 percent over 2020) regained top rank in terms of cargo volume in 2021, followed by Memphis International (MEM) (4.5 million metric tons, down 2.9 percent) and Shanghai Pudong International (PVG) (4 million metric tons up 8.0 percent) airports.

“2021 represents the beginning of the aviation industry’s recovery,” said ACI World Director General Luis Felipe de Oliveira in announcing the 2021 figures. “While some of the perennial busiest airport leaders have re-joined upper ranks, other regions struggle to recover leading to new entrants in the top 20. With many countries taking steps towards the return of a certain normality, lifting almost all the health measures and travel restrictions as supported by science, we welcome the continuation of air travel demand’s recovery in 2022, despite certain headwinds.”

In 2021, the world’s airports accommodated 4.6 billion passengers, representing an increase of 28.3 percent from 2020 or a drop of 49.5 percent from 2019 results. The top 20 airports, representing 19 percent of global traffic (863 million passengers), experienced a gain of 42.9 percent from 2020 or a drop of 32 percent vis-à-vis their 2019 results (1.27 billion passengers in 2019).

From the top 20 passenger traffic rankings, almost all airports have significant domestic traffic representing 65 percent to 100 percent of their total passengers. The only exception is 14th place, Istanbul International Airport (IST) with a larger international traffic share (72 percent of passenger traffic).

Air cargo volumes increased by 15.4 percent year-over-year to a record 125 million metric tons in 2021. Compared to pre-pandemic levels, the biggest jump in the top 20 rankings was recorded for Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport (ORD), which improved its position by seven spots, from 18th in 2019 to 11th in 2021, ACI-World said.