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March 13, 2014

FAA Predicts U.S. Aviation System Will Grow; U.S. Travel Calls for Infrastructure Boost

The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) released its annual forecast today, predicting that the nation’s aviation system will continue to grow over the next two decades with a greater number of people expected to fly more miles each year.

“The Obama Administration recognizes the crucial role aviation plays in keeping Americans, and the American economy, moving,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx. “The aviation forecast is strong and we predict the use of our airports and airplanes will only rise, which is why we are committed to investing in aviation and taking the steps necessary to maintain improvement in the industry.”

By the Numbers

The aviation standard for measuring air travel volume is Revenue Passenger Miles (an RPM represents one paying passenger traveling one mile). For the U.S. carriers as a whole, the agency’s FAA Aerospace Forecast Fiscal Years 2014 to 2034 projects RPM growth to average 2.8 percent per year from 2014 through 2034. U.S. carrier RPMs in 2034 are expected to be approximately 76 percent higher than the 2013 level. According to the forecast, the total number of people flying on U.S. airlines will increase by 0.8 percent from 2013 levels to 745.5 million in 2014 and grow to 1.15 billion in 2034.

To help the FAA and the aerospace system better prepare for the forecasted growth and future changes in the industry, Administrator Huerta has outlined four key strategic initiatives to meet America’s growing reliance on air travel. The initiatives include proactively using safety management principles to make smarter, risk-based decisions throughout the agency; rebalancing existing services and modernizing infrastructure, including advancing NextGen, to reduce costs and become more efficient; shaping international standards to continue to improve aviation safety and efficiency around the world; and attracting and developing talent with the appropriate leadership and technical skills to undertake the transformation of America’s national aviation system.

In addition to an increase in passengers, air cargo traffic, as measured by Revenue Ton Miles (RTMs – one ton of cargo flown one mile) is expected to more than double by 2034 at an average growth rate 4.1 percent. The forecast also shows that the average percent of seats filled per flight reached a record level of 83.2 percent in 2013.  These load factors are expected to reach 83.8 percent in 2034. Landings and take-offs at FAA-operated towers and FAA contract towers are expected to increase from 49.9 million in 2013 to 61.9 million operations in 2034 

The Industry Responds

U.S. Travel Association President and CEO Roger Dow issued a statement in response to the forecast:

“We’re grateful the FAA has made official what we have intuitively known: that demand for air travel has been on a strong upsurge and will continue to be for the foreseeable future.

“What the FAA’s release politely understated is that our air travel infrastructure is woefully under-resourced to cope with the demand we already have, let alone what is coming. More net travelers are obviously terrific for the U.S. economy, but those who travel frequently are thinking about what our flying experiences are already like on a day to basis, and greeting the FAA report with very mixed feelings.

“Furthermore, there is a growing body of evidence that the more traveling is afflicted by hassles and headaches, the more people simply decide not to travel. Unless we make the necessary investments in our infrastructure, this projected travel demand will not fully materialize, and the missed opportunity for the U.S. economy will be tragic. Our policymakers need to explore every funding avenue to make sure that our infrastructure keeps pace and the country realizes the full benefit of these upward travel trends for entrepreneurship, job creation and tax revenues.”

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