Airline Passenger Travel to Nearly Double Over Next 20 Years, FAA Projects

March 8, 2012 Updated Mar 8, 2012 at 2:40 PM EDT

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Airline Passenger Travel to Nearly Double Over Next 20 Years, FAA Projects

March 8, 2012 Updated Mar 8, 2012 at 2:40 PM EDT

Washington D.C. (FAA news release) -- The Federal Aviation Administration released its annual forecast Thursday, projecting airline passenger travel will nearly double in the next 20 years.

According to the FAA news release:

The report underscores the need to continue moving forward with implementation of FAA’s Next Generation Air Transportation System to accommodate the projected growth.

“More and more Americans are relying on air travel, and the Obama Administration is committed to making sure the U.S. can meet our growing aviation demands,” said U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood.  “Our investment in NextGen is the key to getting passengers and cargo to their destinations more safely, faster, and with less impact on the environment.”

The aviation standard for measuring commercial air travel volume is Revenue Passenger Miles.  An RPM represents one paying passenger traveling one mile.  Today’s release of the FAA Aerospace Forecast Fiscal Years 2012-2032 projects RPMs will nearly double over the next two decades, from 815 billion in 2011 to 1.57 trillion in 2032, with an average increase of 3.2 percent per year. The number of commercial operations at FAA and contract towers is expected to increase by more than 45 percent from current levels.

“This year, more people will be flying more miles, and we expect that to continue in future years,” said FAA Acting Administrator Michael Huerta. “The American people deserve an aviation system that can keep pace with our increasing reliance on air travel and NextGen will help us get there.”

Through NextGen, the FAA is transforming the U.S. air transportation system with the use of satellite-based technology that will help passengers reach their destinations more quickly, increase air traffic capacity, and enhance safety.  New, more precise routes will also reduce fuel burn, carbon emissions, and noise.

According to the forecast, the total number of people flying commercially on U.S. airlines will increase by 0.2 percent to 732 million in 2012, then to 746 million in 2013, and then increase more rapidly to 1.2 billion in 2032. The aviation system is expected to reach one billion passengers per year in 2024.

Cargo traffic on U.S. airlines, as measured by Revenue Ton Miles (RTMs – one ton of cargo flying one mile) is projected to more than double over the course of the forecast, growing at an average rate of 4.9 percent per year.  The forecast also notes that in 2011, the average percent of occupied seat miles per plane on commercial flights reached a record level of 82 percent. These load factors are expected to reach an average of 83.4 percent in 2032.

In 2011, traffic growth remained modest with passengers increasing by 2.5 percent from 2010 and RPMs up 3.5 percent from 2010.  Landings and takeoffs handled by FAA and FAA contract towers in 2011 were down by 1.0 percent from 2010. However, the number of commercial aircraft handled at the FAA’s high-altitude en route centers grew by 4.8 percent in 2011 over the previous year.   

The forecast projects the strongest growth in general aviation in jet aircraft, which is expected to grow at a rate of 2.9 percent per year, with a 4 percent per year growth rate in hours flown.