Following a report yesterday about an expected increase in air travel of 800 million passengers worldwide by 2014, the FAA released figures yesterday predicting that U.S. air travel will increase up to 1.3 billion passengers per year by 2031, up from the 737.4 million expected to fly in the U.S. this year according to USA Today.
While the article points out that many U.S. airports can handle steady growth due to declines in passenger traffic over the last decade, such long-term growth will ultimately pass the threshold of what current capacity can handle, making airport expansion and upgrades, along with the implementation of the FAA’s NextGen air traffic revamp all the more important if the U.S. expects to keep up with growth.
Growth of that magnitude will be difficult to accommodate at the USA’s most gridlocked airports near New York and at other chokepoints, highlighting the need for technological improvements in the air traffic system, aviation experts and federal officials say.
“We need to invest in aviation today to make sure America’s economy remains competitive,” Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood says.
The article goes on to note that if current predictions hold true, the implementation of the GPS-based NextGen won’t only be necessary to help combat air traffic congestion, it may not be enough.
The government is building an air traffic system that tracks aircraft with satellite technology instead of radar to improve efficiency. But the gains may not be enough to handle the forecast increases in already-busy zones, Hansman says.
In addition, the new system won’t be required until 2020, and airlines have been hesitant to spend the estimated $2 billion to $6 billion to equip their planes.
The forecast makes investment in the system known as NextGen critical, the government says. “Only a modernized air transportation system will be able to keep up with our forecasted demand,” FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt says.
The growth isn’t all bad news however. After a decade where airlines lost nearly $60 billion, a consistent uptick in air travel is good news for many of the country’s airlines who have struggled to keep costs under control and maintain profit over the last ten years.
Air traffic numbers are also very difficult to accurately predict as events such as 9/11 and the extent of economic downturns like the most recent recession are often unexpected and can cause drastic changes to such predictions.