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ACI World Airport Traffic Report shows passenger growth resilience despite global uncertainty

Traffic in emerging markets growing faster than advanced economies

Montreal, 16 September 2019 – According to Airports Council International (ACI) World’s latest World Airport Traffic Report published today, passenger numbers are estimated to have reached 8.8 billion in 2018, an increase of +6.4% compared to the previous year.

In addition, the world’s airports accommodated 122.7 million metric tonnes of cargo and almost 100 million aircraft movements.

While growth moderated slightly compared to 2017, passenger traffic remained resilient in the face of the global uncertainties affecting many major economies. The 2018 increase is still above the +5.8% compounded average annual growth rate for passenger traffic from 2010 through 2018.

While advanced economies held the largest proportion (52.8%) of global passenger traffic, airport traffic in emerging markets and developing economies grew faster (+8.3%) than in advanced economies (+4.8%) in 2018. During 2018, the highest number of passengers travelled through airports in the Asia-Pacific region:

  1. Asia-Pacific (3.3 billion, +8.1%)
  2. Europe (2.4 billion, +6.4%)
  3. North America (2 billion, +5.0%)
  4. Latin America-Caribbean (651 million, +5.0%)
  5. Middle East (396 million, +0.7%)
  6. Africa (214 million, +9.4%).

In ACI’s view, protectionist policies, slowing global economy and geopolitical tensions represent the most pressing downside risks over the near-term for continued growth. In addition, physical capacity considerations and potential bottlenecks in air transport infrastructure continue to pose challenges in accommodating future demand.

“Protectionist rhetoric – fueled by isolationist policies – has swept several major economies in recent times and this has translated into a dismantling of established open trade relationships and regimes,” ACI World Director General Angela Gittens said.

“Because aviation has strong links to the global economy and to local development through commerce and tourism, these new barriers may restrain the efficient flow of people, goods and services; air transport very much relies on open markets to grow.

“Despite this, passenger traffic has remained resilient, posting annual growth rates above historical averages with the cost of travel decreasing in many markets and middle-class populations burgeoning in emerging markets.”

The report found that the air cargo market did not fare as well as passenger traffic in 2018. Global year-over-year volume fell -1.7% in December 2018 against the previous year, bringing growth for 2018 overall to +3.4%.

“If these isolationist policies persist, their adverse effects will continue to stifle output growth in many countries,” Gittens said. “Economies that rely more on exports or carry higher debt loads will be most sensitive to a downturn, further exacerbating economic conditions.

“In fact, ACI data show that global passenger traffic growth was subdued in the first half of 2019 with a moderate increase of +3.6% year-over-year recorded for the first six months so it is apparent the global economic slowdown is having an impact on aviation markets.

“Air cargo has felt an even greater impact as volumes handled by the world’s major airports contracted by -3.2% in the first half of 2019. A resolution to the trade disputes will help put aviation markets back on track.”

Even with these short-term challenges, however, ACI World’s global medium-term forecast show almost 30% growth in passenger numbers from 2018 to 2023. Over the longer term, passenger traffic worldwide is expected to double in 17 years and projected to grow at an annualized rate of +4.1%, reaching 20.9 billion by 2040.

“From these forecasts, we can see that the airport industry is engaged in a balancing act as it seeks to meet surging air transport demand which, in many cases, is outstripping available airport infrastructure,” Gittens said.

Of the top 20 markets, the United Kingdom has the largest number of international passengers – almost 250 million passengers – while the United States has the largest domestic market (nearly 1.6 billion passengers, 32.9% of the world’s domestic passenger throughput). Africa (+9.4%), Asia-Pacific (+8.1%) and Europe (+6.4%) posted strong growth in passenger traffic.

Notes for editors 

  1. Airports Council International (ACI), the trade association of the world’s airports, was founded in 1991 with the objective of fostering cooperation among its member airports and other partners in world aviation, including the International Civil Aviation Organization, the International Air Transport Association and the Civil Air Navigation Services Organization. In representing the best interests of airports during key phases of policy development, ACI makes a significant contribution toward ensuring a global air transport system that is safe, secure, efficient and environmentally sustainable. As of January 2019, ACI serves 646 members, operating 1,960 airports in 176 countries.
  2. Find more information on ACI’s World Airport Traffic Report.

Media contacts

Bojana Jeremic
Manager, External Relations and Special Events
ACI World
Telephone: +1 514 373 1254

Sabrina Guerrieri
Manager, Communications
ACI World
Telephone: +1 514 373 1200