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ACI finds airport industry in a ‘high wire balancing act’ in meeting demand

World Airport Traffic Forecasts show global traffic is set to reach 19.7 billion by 2040

Montreal, 29 October 2019 – Airports Council International (ACI) World’s annual World Airport Traffic Forecasts (WATF) published today reveal the airport industry is engaged in a high wire balancing act as it prepares to meet surging global demand for air services.

Having reached 8.8 billion in 2018, global traffic is forecast to double by 2037. Over the long term, it is projected to grow at an annualized rate of 3.7%, reaching 19.7 billion by 2040. China is projected to become the largest passenger market in 2031 and then to dominate passenger rankings in 2040, with more than 3.5 billion passengers which equates to an 18% share of the global passenger traffic market.

The US and India will follow, with 2.9 and 1.3 billion passengers respectively. Together, the three countries will handle almost 40% of global passenger traffic. Indonesia, currently the tenth largest market in terms of total passenger traffic worldwide, is expected to rapidly climb in the country rankings, reaching the fourth position by 2036.

In meeting this strong demand, the airport industry faces a balancing act. Airport operators already face capacity constraints and the predicament of surging air transport demand outstripping available airport infrastructure. At the same time, the industry must contend with increased protectionism, isolationism, and risks associated with climate change that could stifle this growth.

“There is no doubt that the future of the industry is positive with ACI’s forecasts showing passenger traffic worldwide is expected to double to more than 17 billion by 2037,” ACI World Director General Angela Gittens said.

“In the short term, however isolationist policies have fuelled a retraction from decades of progress toward greater global economic integration which will inevitably restrain the efficient flow of people, goods and services.

“While it is evident air transport very much relies on open markets to grow, it is also evident that, in markets with strong air transport demand, airport operators already face capacity constraints that could limit growth.

“Action must be taken to address this growing infrastructure gap. Given that more than 200 airports already require slot coordination because they have insufficient capacity to meet demand, government regulators must come together with the aviation industry to ensure that existing capacity can be better utilized while facilitating new and improved infrastructure to improve efficiency and the passenger experience.

“The consequences of inaction are stark. We see for example that EUROCONTROL projects that 1.5 million flights – the equivalent of 160 million passengers – will be unable to fly by 2040. An estimated 470,000 passengers will be delayed one to two hours per day in 2040, compared to 50,000 delayed passengers per day in 2016.”

Air transport forecasts are crucial for airport planning and the determination of future capacity requirements. Because infrastructure projects are costly and often disruptive, a data-driven understanding of future demand—such as the expected number of aircraft movements, passenger traffic throughput and air cargo volumes—gives airport planners and investors the necessary information for effective decision-making.

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. With traffic forecasts for over 110 country markets, the WATF dataset presents detailed metrics, including total passenger numbers (broken down into international and domestic traffic), total air cargo volumes and total aircraft movements. Absolute figures, CAGRs, market shares and global growth contributions are presented over three-time horizons (short, medium and long term) from 2019 to 2040.

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