Memphis overtakes HKIA as world’s busiest airport for 2020: ACI World

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Memphis International Airport (MEM) surpassed Hong Kong International Airport as the world’s busiest cargo airport for 2020, according to Airports Council International (ACI) World’s recently published preliminary world airport traffic rankings. This was the first time that the airport had made it to the top spot in 11 years.

More than 4.61 million metric tonnes of cargo were handled at MEM in 2020, an increase of 6.7 percent compared to 2019. MEM is the home to the FedEx Express World Hub, which is responsible for about 99% of the overall cargo handled at MEM and features about 450 combined arrivals and departures per day.

While the Covid-19 pandemic dramatically reduced passenger traffic across the world, the cargo industry experienced growth in many locations, including MEM.

ACI World’s rankings report showed passenger traffic, cargo volumes, and aircraft movements for 2020 - showing the dramatic impact of Covid-19 on what are ordinarily the world’s busiest airports.

Air cargo volumes in the top 10 airports grew by 3 percent in 2020. These airports represent around 28 percent (30.6 million metric tonnes) of the global volumes in 2020. The gain can be attributed to the increase in demand for online consumer goods and pharmaceutical products and personal protective equipment. 

Air cargo saw volumes decreasing by 8.9 percent, to an estimated 109 million metric tonnes in 2020, equivalent to 2016 levels (110 million metric tonnes). ACI World estimates that there were 58 million global aircraft movements in 2020, representing a drop of -43 percent from 2019. The top 10 airports represent seven percent of global traffic (4.2 million movements) and experienced a drop of -34.3 percent compared to 2019. Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport surpassed Chicago O’Hare International Airport, after leading in 2019 and 2018.

For airports, revenues are tightly correlated to traffic levels but, like many other capital-intensive businesses, a large proportion of airport costs remain largely fixed and do not fall at the same level as traffic throughput and revenues during the crisis. Even with reduced operations, the closure of terminals and staff layoffs, this imbalance remains.

“Airport operators also continue to work closely with their airline partners and other stakeholders balancing the current market realities with the cost of providing the infrastructure as they navigate the crisis together.”

“There is no denying the current economic realities - and the financial shortfall they create - that airports face,” ACI World director general Luis Felipe de Oliveira said. “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.

“Airport operators also continue to work closely with their airline partners and other stakeholders balancing the current market realities with the cost of providing the infrastructure as they navigate the crisis together.”

“We take pride in our ranking in the air cargo industry, which serves as a positive reminder of the importance of FedEx and e-commerce to the Mid-South’s economy,” said Pace Cooper, chairman of the Board of Commissioners for the Memphis-Shelby County Airport Authority. “It also illustrates the crucial role cargo has served during the pandemic. We are working diligently to facilitate continued growth by FedEx and the ongoing recovery of our passenger traffic.”

Meanwhile, global passenger traffic at the world’s top 10 busiest airports decreased by 45.7 percent in 2020. Overall, passenger traffic at the world’s airports decreased by 64.6 percent which shows that the impact of the pandemic and the early stages of recovery in air travel has not been uniform around the world.

According to the preliminary data published April 22, Guangzhou Bai Yun International Airport in China recorded the most passenger traffic in 2020, with Atlanta Hartsfield- Jackson International Airport in the United States just behind.



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