Close this search box.
Close this search box.

China Southern Airlines Remains On The Throne — World Airline Ranking June ’21

Overall, positive signals continue, and the world's biggest airlines continue to rebound. As every month, we looked at the developments of the big carriers in terms of revenue passenger kilometers (RPK) and compiled the World Airline Ranking.

World Airline Ranking — June 2021

Overall, positive signals continue, and the world’s biggest airlines continue to rebound. As every month, we looked at the developments of the big carriers in terms of revenue passenger kilometers (RPK). Here are the details what’s contained in this blog post:

World Airline Ranking — What we analyzed

The data shown in this blog post is based on official ICAO traffic figures. Moreover, the ranking is based on revenue passenger kilometers (RPK) operated in March 2021.

World Airline Ranking — Key Takeaways

  • Compared to the previous month, the world’s biggest airlines increased RPKs by 6.5%.
  • In total, the top 15 airlines, operated 134.5 billion RPK in April 2021 (126 billion in March 2021)
  • In terms of RPK, the Top 15 airlines accounted for 61% of the world’s total RPK in March 2021. That’s an incrase of 5 pp. compared to March 2021.

China Southern Remains on the Throne
For the second consecutive month, China Southern wins the gold medal as the world’s biggest airline. Compared to American Airlines on position two, China Southern operated 2 billion RPKs more. Moreover, China Southern Airlines was able to increase its RPKs by almost 7%.

U.S. Airlines Show Solid Growth
Especially Delta Air Lines and United Airlines show solid growth with 11.9% and 17.3% compared to last month. So although they remain on positions five and six, both airlines are getting closer to ranks three and four.

Turkish and the Middle East Carriers Lose Ground
Despite overall growth, airlines from the Middle East and Turkish Airlines witnessed an RPK decline compared to last month. Turkish Airline’s RPK decreases by 4%, whereas Qatar Airways recorded a dump of 9.3%. Emirates, which already maintained a low level in terms of RPK, dropped another 2.7%.

Lufthansa Show Amazing Performance
Based on increasing traffic numbers in Germany, Lufthansa increased its RPK by 21.6% compared to March 2021. As a result, Lufthansa climbs one position in the World Airline Ranking and gets close to Turkish Airlines.

Let’s have a look at the detailed results!

World Airline Ranking — Results

[table “” not found /]

World Airline Ranking — Top 15 Airlines in Detail

#1 — China Southern Airlines

For another month, China Southern Airlines impressed with an amazing growth rate of 6.9%. As a result, China Southern is on top of the World Airline Ranking for the second month in a row. Moreover, China Southern operated more than 2 billion RPKs more than American Airlines on position two. However, compared to pre-pandemic results, the Chinese carrier’s traffic is 17.7% down.

World Airline Ranking - China Souther Airlines

Airline Information
Besides Air China and China Eastern, China Southern is the third of China’s “Big Three” airlines. China Southern has its headquarters in Guangzhou and operates out of its hubs in Beijing and Guangzhou. The airline has more than 620 aircraft and flies to more than 200 destinations. Almost 100,000 employees are responsible for 2,000 daily flights to destinations all over the world.

File:China Southern Airlines B787-9 (B-1128)(30423833267).jpg
China Southern aircraft, Source: Wikipedia

#2 — American Airlines

American Airlines remains in position two of the World Airline Ranking. The biggest U.S. airlines recorded an RPK increase of 3.8% compared to March 2021. Nevertheless, American Airlines is still down 46.2% compared to pre-Corona traffic in 2019.

World Airline Ranking - American Airlines

Airline Information
American Airlines is a major carrier of the United States. Measured by fleet size, American Airlines is the world’s biggest airline. American operates a fleet of 860 aircraft out of its hubs in Charlotte, Chicago, Dallas, Los Angeles, Miami, New York, Philadelphia, Phoenix, and Washington. The airline has more than 130,000 employees and handled more than 200 million passengers in pre-COVID time.

File:American Airlines Boeing 777-300ER (N719AN) at Frankfurt Airport.jpg
American Airlines aircraft, Source: Wikipedia

#3 — Air China

Compared to the last ranking, Air China recorded an enormous growth of 9.5%. Subsequently, Air China surpassed China Eastern Airlines and ranked 3rd on the World Airline Ranking. However, Air China and China Eastern Airlines are very close to each other in terms of RPK.

World Airline Ranking - Air China

Airline Information
Air China is considered as one of the “Big Three” Chinese airlines. The airline operates a fleet of 450 aircraft and transported more than 100 million passengers in pre-COVID time. Air China flies to more than 200 destinations out of its hubs in Beijing and Chengdu and has 50,000 employees.

File:B-2485 - Air China - Boeing 747-89L - PEK (17038275979).jpg
Air China aircraft, Source: Wikipedia

#4 — China Eastern Airlines

Due to slower growth than Air China, China Eastern Airlines lost one position and ranked 4th on the World Airline Ranking. China Eastern operated 12.7 billion RPKs in April 2021 — an increase of 6.7% compared to the previous month.

World Airline Ranking - China Eastern Airlines

Airline Information
China Eastern is another airline of China’s “Big Three.” The airline has its headquarters in Changning and operates flights from its hubs in Shanghai, Beijing, Kunming, and Xi’an. The mega carrier has a fleet of 580 aircraft and flies to almost 250 destinations. China Eastern is a SkyTeam member and has 80,000 employees.

File:China Eastern Airlines Boeing 737-800; B-5493@HKG;04.08.2011 615rm (6207496947).jpg
China Eastern aircraft, Source: Wikipedia

#5 — Delta Air Lines

After Delta lost three positions in last month’s ranking, the U.S. carrier remains on position five. However, Delta Air Lines managed to increase its RPKs massively. Compared to the previous month, Delta’s RPKs jumped 11.9% — that’s the third-best result among the world’s top airlines.

World Airline Ranking - Delta Air lines

Airline Information
Delta Air Lines, typically referred to as Delta, is another major U.S. carrier. With a fleet of 750 aircraft, Delta operates flights to 325 destinations. In addition, the airlines operate several hubs, such as Atlanta, Boston, or Detroit. Pre-COVID, the airline had 91,000 employees and handled 5,400 flights to 52 countries daily.

File:Delta Airlines Boeing 777-200 N862DA.jpg
Delta Aircraft, Source: Wikipedia

#6 — United Airlines

United Airlines performs similar to Delta. After a loss of three positions last month, United remains in position six. However, United Airlines also recorded a massive growth in terms of RPKs (+17.3%).

World Airline Ranking - United Airlines

Airline Information
United Airlines is another major airline in the United States. Measured by fleet size and the number of routes, United ranks 3rd among the world’s airlines. The airline operates more than 800 aircraft out of its bases in Chicago, Denver, Houston, Los Angeles, Newark, San Fransisco, and Washington. With almost 100,000 employees, United Airlines operates flights to 342 destinations around the world.

File:United Airlines Boeing 777-200ER (N795UA) at Frankfurt Airport.jpg -  Wikimedia Commons
United Airlines aircraft, Source: Wikipedia

#7 — Southwest Airlines

Southwest Airlines managed to defeat its rank and remains at position 7 among the world’s top airlines. Southwest recorded solid growth of 4.2% compared to the previous month. Nevertheless, and contrary to the previous month(s), Southwest grew slower than its U.S. competitors.

World Airline Ranking - Southwest Airlines

Airline Information
Southwest is one the major airline of the United States and the world’s biggest low-cost carrier. The carrier operates an incredible fleet of 733 aircraft from several bases in the United States (e. g. Atlanta, Baltimore, Chicago, Dallas, Denver, Houston, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Orlando, etc.). Almost 60,000 employees are responsible for 4,000 daily flights – mainly to the United States, Caribbean, and Central America.

History of Southwest Airlines - Wikiwand
Southwest Aircraft, Source: Wikipedia

#8 — Hainan Airlines

Hainan Airlines remain in position eight on the World Airline Ranking. After enormous growth last months, the Chinese airline recorded a stable month with rather moderate growth (+7.4%).

World Airline Ranking - Hainan Airlines

Airline Information
Hainan Airlines was founded in 1989 and is one of China’s largest airlines. With an aircraft fleet of 220 planes, the airline operates from its hubs in Beijing, Haikou, Xi’an, and Shenzhen. Hainan Airlines has its headquarters in Haikou and operates flights to 110 destinations in Asia, Europe, and North America.

File:Airbus A350-941, Hainan Airlines JP9095347.jpg
Hainan Airlines Aircraft, Source: Wikipedia

#9 — Air France / KLM

After many months of growth, Air France / KLM had to record a decrease in revenue passenger kilometers. Compared to the previous months, the French/Durch airline group reported a decrease of 3%. Moreover, compared to pre-COVID results, Air France / KLM is still 74% down.

World Airline Ranking - Air France KLM

Airline Information
Air France / KLM is a France-Dutch airline group. Besides the main carriers, Air France and KLM, the group consists of Transavia, Hop, or Martinair airlines. In pre-COVID time, the airline group had more than 85,000 employees and operated 2,300 flights with its 550 aircraft. In 2019, Air France / KLM operated 104 million passengers, mainly from Paris and Amsterdam. 

File:Air France A380-800(F-HPJD) (5233706017).jpg
Air France Aircraft, Source: Wikipedia


#10 — Aeroflot

Aeroflot continues its growth path with an increase of 8.6% compared to last month. It will be interesting to see if Aeroflot surpasses Air France / KLM in the next month.

World Airline Ranking - Aeroflot

Airline Information
Aeroflot was founded in 1923 and is Russia’s flag carrier and biggest airline today. Aeroflot operates a fleet of 244 aircraft out of its hub in Moscow (Moscow Sheremetyevo). The airline has 30,000 employees and flies to more than 240 destinations all over the world.

File:Aeroflot Airbus A320 Beltyukov.jpg - Wikimedia Commons
Aeroflot Aircraft, Source: Wikipedia

#11 — Turkish Airlines

Surprisingly, Turkish Airlines is among the top loser of this month’s World Airline Ranking. Compared to the previous month, Turkish recorded a 4%-decrease in terms of RPKs. Moreover, compared to pre-COVID figures, Turkish Airlines is still 60% down.

World Airline Ranking - Turkish Airlines

Airline Information
Turkish Airlines is Turkey’s biggest airline. With a fleet of 362 aircraft and some 40,000 employees. The airline operates flights to 126 countries, more than any other airline in the world. Turkish Airlines has its main hub in Istanbul and operates a secondary hub in Izmir.

Find out everything about Turkish Airlines on our dedicated Turkish Airlines information page.

File:TC-JVU B738 Turkish Airlines (29338111550).jpg
Turkish Airlines Aircraft, Source: Wikipedia

#12 — Lufthansa Group

And here’s the top gainer of this month’s World Airline Ranking. Lufthansa showed an amazing performance resulting in a 21.6% RPK growth. Although the German carrier is still 82% down compared to pre-COVID results, it seems the airline group is back on track!

World Airline Ranking - Lufthansa

Airline Information
The Lufthansa Group consists of several European airlines, such as Lufthansa, Swiss International Airlines, Austrian Airlines, Brussels Airlines, or Eurowings. The group airlines operated out of their bases in Frankfurt, Munich, Vienna, and Zurich. In total, the airline group has more than 700 aircraft and, before COVID-19, almost 140,000 employees. The airline operates flights to hundreds of European destinations and Asia, North America, Africa, Central and South America.

File:D-AINL Lufthansa A320neo Weinheim an der Bergstraße (45105404071).jpg
Lufthansa Aircraft, Source: Wikipedia

#13 — Qatar Airways

Due to Lufthansa’s enormous growth, Qatar Airways lost one position and ranked 13th on this month’s World Airline Ranking. The Middle East carrier had to record an RPK-decrease of almost 10% compared to the previous months.

World Airline Ranking - Qatar Airways

Airline Information
Qatar Airways is the state-owned flag carrier of Qatar. The airline is headquartered and operates out of its hub in Doha. The carrier has a fleet of 235 aircraft consisting of various Airbus and Boeing airplanes. Qatar Airways has approximately 50,000 employees and flies to 173 destinations all over the world. The airline won many awards for its recognized service and product quality. On top of that, the airline has its own loyalty program, called Privilege Club.

Find out everything about Qatar on our dedicated Qatar Airways information page.

Qatar Airways A380

#14 — Emirates

Similar to Qatar Airways, Emirates also recorded another RPK-decrease. Moreover, compared to pre-COVID results, Emirates is still almost 85% down.

World Airline Ranking - Emirates

Airline Information
Emirates Airlines was founded in 1985 and operated out of its base in Dubai. The airline operates a fleet of 250 aircraft, mainly Airbus A380 and Boeing B777. With more than 100 Airbus A380, Emirates is the world’s biggest operator of this aircraft. In addition, Emirates Airlines flies to more than 150 destinations all over the world. Pre-COVID, the airline had more than 60,000 employees.

Find out everything about Emirates on our dedicated Emirates information page.

File:Emirates Airbus A380-861 A6-EER MUC 2015 04.jpg
Emirates Aircraft, Source: Wikipedia

#15 — Spring Airlines

After entering the Top 15 last months, China’s Spring Airlines in that position for another month. Spring Airlines operated 3.5 billion RPKs in March 2021 — an increase of another 6%.

World Airline Ranking - Spring Airlines

World Airline Ranking — What’s Your Opinion?

We’re always happy to get your feedback. Just leave a comment below or get in touch with the author on social media.

Share this article
About the author
Author picture

Benjamin Walther

CEO, Frankfurt

Benjamin is Information Design's CEO and a proven content-maniac. Besides running a successful business and developing pioneering ideas, he's dedicated to writing blog posts and creating content.

You might also like