According to the FAA Aerospace Forecast Fiscal Years 2018- 2038, air travel in the U.S. is very strong and will continue to be over the next two decades.
The 2018 FAA forecast calls for U.S. carrier passenger growth over the next 20 years to average 1.9 percent per year, slightly slower than last year’s forecast. The uptick in passenger growth in 2016-17 will continue into 2018 spurred on by favorable economic conditions in the U.S. and the world. Oil prices averaged $48 per barrel in 2017 rising to $51 in 2018, and our forecast assumes they will increase thereafter to exceed $100 by 2030 and approach $119 by the end of the forecast period. The headwinds that have buffeted the global economy during the past few years – uncertainty surrounding “Brexit”, recession in Russia and Brazil and inconsistent performance in other emerging economies, a “hard landing” in China, and lack of further stimulus in the advanced economies seem to be diminishing. The U.S. economy is showing signs of accelerating, powered by gains in the stock market and should see additional stimulus in 2018 with the passing of the tax cut bill in December 2017.
System traffic in revenue passenger miles (RPMs) is projected to increase by 2.3 percent a year between 2018 and 2038. Domestic RPMs are forecast to grow 1.9 percent a year while International RPMs are forecast to grow significantly faster at 3.2 percent a year. System capacity as measured by available seat miles (ASMs) is forecast to grow in line with the increases in demand. The number of seats per aircraft is growing, especially in the regional jet market, where we expect the number of 50 seat regional jets to fall to just a handful by 2030, replaced by 70-90 seat aircraft.
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Although the U.S. and global economy saw growth accelerate in 2017, a combination of higher energy prices and labor cost increases resulted in profits for U.S. airlines falling from 2016’s record levels. The FAA expects U.S. carrier profitability to remain steady or increase as solid demand fed by an improving economy offsets rising energy and labor costs. 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. and global economy.
The long-term outlook for general aviation is stable to optimistic, as growth at the high-end offsets continuing retirements at the traditional low end of the segment. The active general aviation fleet is forecast to remain relatively stable between 2018 and 2038. While steady growth in both GDP and corporate profits results in continued growth of the turbine and rotorcraft fleets, the largest segment of the fleet – fixed-wing piston aircraft continues to shrink over the forecast. While the fleet remains level, the number of general aviation hours flown is projected to increase an average of 0.8 percent per year through 2038, as growth in turbine, rotorcraft, and experimental hours more than offset a decline in fixed-wing piston hours.
With increasing numbers of regional and business jets in the nation’s skies, fleet mix changes, and carriers consolidating operations in their large hubs, we expect increased activity growth that has the potential to increase controller workload. Operations at FAA and contract towers are forecast to grow 0.9 percent a year over the forecast period with commercial activity growing at five times the rate of non-commercial activity. The growth in U.S. airline and business aviation activity is the primary driver. Large and medium hubs will see much faster increases than small and non-hub airports, largely due to the commercial nature of their operations.
The full report can be found here.