The 100th anniversary of commercial aviation finds the airline industry on more stable footing following the challenges posed by several economic shocks. A report by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) projects solid growth in the industry over the next 20 years, fueled by increasing passenger demand and the strategic changes implemented by air carriers.
The report estimates the number of passengers flying U.S. airlines will top 745 million in 2014 and grow to more than 1.1 billion by 2034. The FAA also projects the number of miles passengers will fly will grow by an average of 2.8% a year for the next two decades. Landings and takeoffs from FAA-operated towers are projected to increase from 49.9 million in 2013 to nearly 62 million in 2034, according to the report, Aerospace Forecast Fiscal Years 2014 to 2034.
The projected growth in passenger traffic is expected to drive demand for qualified aviation professionals. The vibrant and pioneering nature of the industry calls for “a highly-skilled workforce,” the Air Transport Action Group noted in its 2014 report Aviation: Benefits Beyond Borders.
Array of Aviation Management Careers
Worldwide, the aviation industry employs nearly 9 million people, according to the International Air Transport Association (IATA). That includes a broad range of occupations, such as airline manager, pilot, freight and cargo supervisor, transportation security officer and airport manager, as well as other aviation management roles.
A 2013 report by aircraft manufacturer Boeing found “urgent demand for competent aviation personnel,” including the need for nearly 500,000 new commercial airline pilots over the next 20 years.
Commercial carriers have come a long way since Jan. 1, 1914, when pilot Tony Jannus flew the first paying passenger across Tampa Bay, Florida, in a bi-wing airboat. However, the new century has brought significant challenges for the industry.
The terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the Great Recession and rising fuel costs suppressed demand and forced airlines to rethink their business. They responded by slashing operating costs, grounding older planes and cutting less profitable routes. Carriers also began charging for services that were once included in the ticket price, such as baggage checks.
“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 FAA report stated.
Passenger Demand Growing Worldwide
Similar growth is projected for airlines worldwide, according to the IATA. The industry group reports that strong demand in the Middle East, Latin America and the Asia-Pacific region increased passenger numbers by 5.2% in 2013.
The IATA estimates the number of airline passengers worldwide will reach 3.3 billion in 2014, a number that equates to more than 6,000 passengers boarding airlines every minute. That is expected to push airline profits to $18.7 billion, a sharp increase over the $12.9 billion reported in 2013 and the profits of $6.1 billion in 2012.
North American carriers will account for almost half of the 2014 profits, according to IATA. On average, airlines worldwide will earn a profit of $5.65 per passenger.
“The cyclical economic upturn is supporting a strong demand environment,” IATA Chief Executive Officer Tony Tyler said in a March 2014 statement. “And that is compensating for the challenges of higher fuel costs related to geo-political instability.”
In the United States, the FAA is responding to the increasing demand with its NextGen program. NextGen is an effort to improve airline safety in a number of ways, the most notable of which is switching air traffic control from ground-based radar to satellite-based tracking systems.
“With healthy growth projected in air travel, the FAA has a tremendous opportunity to make a major difference in the industry,” FAA Administrator Michael Huerta told USA Today in March.