Global air travel could double to 7.2 billion passengers in 20 years

Don Arnold/Getty Images

If you think that the skies are already full of planes, you haven’t seen nothing yet.

According to a new report from the International Air Transport Association (IATA), passenger numbers are likely to surge in the years ahead.

According to the group’s 20-year Air Passenger Forecast report released overnight, IATA expects 7.2 billion passengers to travel by air in 2035, a near doubling of the 3.8 billion level of today.

The group’s forecasts are based on an annual compound growth rate of 3.7% per annum, led by booming growth in Asia.

“The forecast for passenger growth confirms that the biggest driver of demand will be the Asia-Pacific region. It is expected to be the source of more than half the new passengers over the next 20 years,” IATA says.

“India will displace the UK for third place in 2026, while Indonesia enters the top 10 at the expense of Italy.

“Growth will also increasingly be driven within developing markets. Over the past decade the developing world’s share of total passenger traffic has risen from 24% to nearly 40%, and this trend is set to continue,” it adds.

Some of the forecasts offered by the group are phenomenal.

In China, passenger numbers are expected to swell by a further 817 million over the next 20 years, leaving total passenger traffic at an astonishing 1.3 billion per year.

IATA forecasts that China will surpass total passenger traffic in the United States — currently the largest market — by the year 2029.

In the US, the group think total passenger traffic will grow by 484 million over the next 20 years, taking total traffic to 1.1 billion.

India is expected to be the third-largest market by 2035 with the group forecasting growth in traffic of 322 million, taking it to 442 million.

While Europe is expected to record to slowest growth rate of all major markets, IATA is still forecasting growth in passenger numbers of 570 million over the next 20 years, leaving annual traffic at 1.5 billion passengers.

The charts below, supplied by IATA, put those figures into perspective.

Although the group could be accused of “talking its own book” given it represents 265 airlines worldwide, one only has to look at overseas arrivals and departures figures from the ABS to see that the forecasts may not be far off the mark.

According to the ABS, in original terms, total overseas and arrivals in the year to August 2016 totalled 36,697,100, an increase of over 15 million, or 72.1%, from the levels seen in the 12 months to August 2006.

While not all of that traffic has been air travel, the vast majority of it has. And most of it has come from Asia, China in particular, underlining the growth potential for air travel in this region in the decades ahead.

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