McKinsey & Company
Florian Brummer, Olivier Chéret, Moira Goulmy, and Robin Riedel

With the COVID-19 pandemic wreaking havoc in global aviation over the past year and a half, the airport industry has been hit hard. The number of scheduled passengers boarded onto planes dropped from about 9.1 billion to 3.6 billion from 2019 to 2020—a decrease of 61 percent—and airport revenues were $129 billion lower than the pre-COVID-19 forecast of $199 billion, representing a reduction of about 65 percent. The year 2021 is set to look only slightly better, with an estimated reduction of about $110 billion in revenues compared with the pre-COVID-19 forecast. Simultaneously, airport operators have had to implement stringent safety protocols to protect passengers and employees. Amidst this disruption, they have had little time to focus on the future.

While the industry’s short-term difficulties are not yet over, passenger traffic volumes have started to increase in most regions and should ultimately recover. As they do, airport operators face another transformative challenge: the need to integrate a new range of manned and unmanned aerial vehicles into their operations and infrastructure, including battery- or hydrogen-powered conventional aircraft; drones for tasks such as cargo movement, aerial surveillance, or even firefighting; and passenger advanced air mobility (AAM), leveraging electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) aircraft.


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