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(Tribune file photo) by Al Hartmann | This was a familiar scene this past year at Salt Lake City International Airport— fliers lining up to go through a security checkpoint — as FAA data showed almost a 1 percent increase in traffic through the airport last year.
FAA predicts steady growth in air travel
Concern » FAA predicts steady growth in air travel, but can airports and air traffic control towers keep pace?
First Published Mar 19 2014 01:01 am • Last Updated Mar 19 2014 09:52 am

Air passenger travel is expected to increase by 2.8 percent year from this year through 2034 according to a report issued this month by the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Aviation Administration.

But one major player in the travel industry is wondering if the country’s airports can keep up with increased demand.

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"What the FAA’s release politely understated is that our air travel infrastructure is woefully under-resourced to cope with the demand we already have, let alone what is coming," said Roger Dow, president and CEO of the U.S. Travel Association. "More net travelers are obviously terrific for the U.S. economy, but those who travel frequently are thinking about what our flying experiences are already like on a day-to-day basis and greeting the FAA report with very mixed feeling."

Dow said that as travel becomes more afflicted by hassles and headaches, he fears more people will simply decide not to travel.

"Unless we make the necessary investments in our infrastructure, this projected travel demand will not fully materialize, and the missed opportunity for the U.S. economy will be tragic," he said.

The report is called "FAA Aerospace Forecast Fiscal Years 2014 to 2034." It uses the aviation standard for measuring air travel volume as Revenue Passenger Miles (RPMs), which represents one paying passenger traveling one mile.

U.S. carrier RPMs are expected to be approximately 76 percent higher than the 2013 level, according to the report. The forecast predicts the total number of people flying on U.S. Airlines will increase by .8 percent from 2013 levels to 745.5 million in 2014, growing to 1.5 billion in 2034.

Complicating things even more is that air cargo traffic, as measured by Revenue Ton Miles (one ton of cargo flown one mile) is also expected to more than double by 2034 at an average growth rate of 4.1 percent.

Other results of the forecast showed that the average percent of seats filled per flight reached a record level of 83.2 percent in 2013. These load factors are expected to reach 83.8 percent in 2024.

Landings and takeoffs at FAA-operated towers and FAA contract towers are expected to increase from 49.9 million in 2013 to 61.9 million in 2034.

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The agency tried to put a positive spin on the numbers.

"With healthy growth projected in air travel, the FAA has a tremendous opportunity to make a major difference in the industry," said agency administrator Michael Huerta. "As the system becomes more complex, we’ll look to new technologies to meet the growing demand for safe and efficient air travel here at home and around the world."

Huerta listed four initiatives the FAA was instigating to meet America’s growing reliance on air travel. These initiatives included:

• Raising the bar on safety by proactively using safety management principles to make smarter, risk-based decisions throughout the agency and with industry and global stakeholders.

• Rebalancing existing services and modernizing the infrastructure including advancing NextGen, to reduce costs and become more efficient in the long run, as the FAA works to safely integrate new types of users into the nation’s airspace.

• Building on America’s history of leadership in shaping international standards to continue to improve aviation safety and efficiency around the world.

• Attracting and developing the best and the brightest talent with the appropriate leadership and technical skills to undertake the transformation of America’s national aviation system.

Dow said policymakers need to explore every funding avenue to make sure that U.S. airports and air-traffic control systems keep pace so the country can realize the full benefit of upward travel trends for entrepreneurship, job creation and tax revenue.


Twitter: @tribtomwharton

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