FAA Forecast Sees Steady Growth in Air Travel Through 2035

By Woodrow Bellamy III  | March 19, 2015
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[Avionics Today 3-18-2015] U.S. airlines are expected to transport 1 billion passengers per year by 2029, according to the FAA’s annual aviation forecast released this week. Over the next two decades, the agency expects U.S. carrier passenger growth to average 2.2 percent per year, as the North American market comes off a year in 2014 where domestic airlines served an estimated 756.3 million passengers, which was an increase of 2.3 percent from the 2013 level. 
United Airlines aircraft at Chicago O’Hare. Photo: United Airlines.
The forecast’s findings were largely fueled by an improving U.S. economy, the FAA said. Air traffic and demand for commercial air travel are also projected to continue to grow, as landings and take-offs at FAA-operated towered airports and FAA-contracted towered airports grew from 49.6 million passengers in 2014 to nearly 60 million operations in 2035. 
During a recent hearing before the U.S. House subcommittee on aviation, FAA Administrator Michael Huerta told lawmakers that the agency is focused on using the modernization of the nation’s Air Traffic Control (ATC) system, known as NextGen, to accommodate for the projected significant increase in air traffic. 
“By the end of this month, we will finish the upgrade of our en route air traffic control automation system,” Huerta said, referring to the NextGen En Route Automation Modernization (ERAM) initiative. ERAM is a replacement of the 40-year-old En Route Host computer and backup system currently used to manage high altitude traffic at 20 FAA Air Route Traffic Control Centers nationwide. 
“This is one of the largest automation changeovers in the history of the FAA. It results in a more powerful air traffic system that can handle the challenges of the coming decades,” Huerta added. 
In 2014, demand for domestic commercial air travel increased at a modest pace, with system revenue passenger miles up 2.5 percent, and commercial air carrier domestic enplanements up by 2.1 percent. The system-wide load factor, which represents the average percentage of seats filled on commercial passenger jets, was estimated at 83.4 percent in 2014. The forecast expects load factors to grow to 84.2 percent by 2035. 
Internationally, the FAA is projecting that the highest demand for passenger air travel to come from the Latin America region, with estimated passenger growth averaging 4.2 percent annually through 2035. The highest demand is expected to come from Mexico, at 4.7 percent, followed by Brazil at 4.4 percent per year.
According to the forecast, reporting carriers had a combined operating profit of $14.9 billion in 2014, compared to $9.6 billion in 2013. All U.S. carriers reported profits for fiscal year 2014.
The forecast also provided interesting analysis about future U.S. carrier profitability. 

“With lower energy prices, U.S. carrier profitability should remain steady or increase as an economy in its sixth year of recovery leads to strengthening demand and increased revenues, while operating costs are falling or stable,” the forecast states. “Over the long term, we see a competitive and profitable aviation industry characterized by increasing demand for air travel and airfares growing more slowly than inflation, reflecting over the long term a growing U.S. economy.” 

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