SEOUL, Jan. 31 (Yonhap) — The number of passengers using South Korean airports fell sharply last year due to the fallout of the new coronavirus outbreak, marking the first drop in 12 years, data showed Sunday.

The number of people using 15 airports across the nation came to 65 million last year, down 58.8 percent from a year earlier, according to the data compiled by Statistics Korea.

It marked the first time that the number of airport passengers declined since 2008, when the country was in the midst of the global financial crisis. At that time, the number of airport users fell 1.7 percent.

The sharp fall in airport passengers came as international air travel was disrupted due to the fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Incheon International Airport, the country’s main gateway west of Seoul, saw the number of passengers reach around 12 million last year, sharply down from 71 million the previous year, the data showed.

Jeju Airport on the country’s southern resort island of Jeju, meanwhile, attracted the most passengers with 21 million last year, followed by Gimpo International Airport in western Seoul with 17.5 million.

The popularity of domestic travel rose last year as the pandemic thwarted demand for overseas trips.

The file photo (top) shows a security checkpoint for departures packed with overseas travelers at Incheon International Airport, west of Seoul, on Jan. 23, 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic had yet to spread across the nation. The photo (bottom), taken on Jan. 19, 2021, shows only a few passengers using the international airport amid a flare-up in new coronavirus cases. (Yonhap)