FAA Forecasts Continued Growth in U.S. Air Travel over the Next Two Decades

The FAA expects an annual increase in both domestic and international air travel through the year 2037

FAA Forecasts Continued Growth in U.S. Air Travel over the Next Two Decades
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March 22, 2017

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has released its annual Aerospace Forecast Report Fiscal Years 2017 to 2037, which projects sustained and continued growth in nearly every aspect of air transportation—from general aviation private flying to large commercial airline passenger levels.

In commercial air travel, Revenue Passenger Miles (RPMs) are considered the benchmark for measuring aviation growth. An RPM represents one revenue passenger traveling one mile.

The FAA forecast calls for system RPMs by mainline and regional air carriers to grow at an average rate of 2.4 percent per year between 2016 and 2037, with international RPMs projected for average annual increases of 3.4 percent per year during that same time period. The FAA says that system RPMs are expected to increase 65 percent during the 20-year forecast.

A key new portion of the FAA's forecast focuses on the growth in the use of Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS), also known as drones. The FAA projects that the small model hobbyist UAS fleet will more than triple in size from an estimated 1.1 million vehicles at the end of 2016 to more than 3.5 million units by 2021. The commercial, non-hobbyist UAS fleet is predicted to grow from 42,000 at the end of 2016 to about 442,000 aircraft by 2021, with an upside possibility of as many as 1.6 million UAS in use by 2021. The FAA expects the number of those piloting these UAS vehicles to increase from 20,000 at the end of 2016 to a range of 10 to 20 times as many by 2021.

The FAA says that predictions for small UAS are more difficult to develop given the dynamic, quickly-evolving market. The FAA has provided high and low ranges around the hobbyist forecast, reflecting uncertainty about the public's continued adoption of this new technology. The FAA's non-hobbyist (commercial) UAS fleet size forecasts contain certain broad assumptions about operating limitations for small UAS during the next five years based on the basic constraints of the existing regulations: daytime operations, within visual line of sight, and a single pilot operating only one small UAS at a time. The main difference, according to the FAA, in the high and low end of the forecasts is differing assumptions about how quickly the regulatory environment will evolve, enabling more widespread routine uses of UAS for commercial purposes.

The FAA utilizes a variety of economic data and projections to develop its annual forecast report, such as generally accepted projections for the nation's Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

Consistently considered the industry-wide standard of U.S. aviation-related activities, the annual FAA forecast looks at all facets of air travel including commercial airlines, air cargo, private general aviation, and fleet sizes.

See the FAA Aviation Forecast Fact Sheet.