Bustling airports, full planes and record numbers of air miles logged are on the horizon, according to 20-year federal projections.
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) expects the number of U.S. airline passengers to reach 745.5 million in 2014, a 0.8% increase over 2013. By 2034, the FAA projects 1.15 billion passengers will fly U.S. airlines.
The optimistic outlook, highlighted in the agency’s March 2014 report FAA Aerospace Forecast Fiscal Years 2014 to 2034, follows several tumultuous years for the domestic airline industry, which dealt with the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the Great Recession and rising fuel costs.
Fuel accounts for roughly 30% of airline costs, according to the International Air Transport Association (IATA), an industry group.
In response to these challenges, air carriers have had to rethink how they do business, the FAA report noted. They cut operating costs, removed less profitable routes and grounded older planes. At the same time, they began offering new services for a fee and charging for services once included in the ticket price. Domestic airlines collected $2.5 billion in bag fees in the first nine months of 2013, the Los Angeles Times reported in March.
The attention to maximizing profits has helped the airline industry find smooth air, the FAA found.
“Going into the next decade, there is cautious optimism that the industry has been transformed from that of a boom-to-bust cycle to one of sustainable profits,” the report stated.
The “load factor” – or percentage of seats filled – reached a record 83.2% in 2013 and is projected to reach 83.8% in 2034. Additionally, the number of takeoffs and landings at FAA-operated and FAA-contracted towers are on track to grow from about 50 million in 2013 to almost 62 million in 2034.
Air cargo traffic is up as well. Revenue ton miles, or the measure of 1 ton of cargo flown 1 mile, are projected to more than double over the next two decades.
The Federal Aviation Administration has laid out several strategies to prepare for the projected growth in the industry, including enhancing safety standards, and modernizing aviation infrastructure through the implementation of next-generation (NextGen) technology to reduce costs and improve efficiency.
The agency also noted the need to recruit and develop “the best and the brightest talent with the appropriate leadership and technical skills” to help remake the aviation system.
“The aviation forecast is strong and we predict the use of our airports and airplanes will only rise,” U.S. Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx said in a statement.