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Fact Sheet – FAA Forecast–Fiscals Years 2016-37

For Immediate Release

March 21, 2017
Contact: Hank Price
Phone: 202-267-3883


I. 2016 SUMMARY:  ECONOMIC ACTIVITY AND AIR TRAVEL

  • U.S. Gross Domestic Product (GDP) increased 1.6 percent; world GDP increased 2.3 percent.
  • Domestic mainline yields decreased 5.6 percent, while international yields decreased 9.1 percent in 2016. In real terms (adjusted for inflation in FY16$), domestic yields decreased 6.5 percent and international yields decreased 9.9 percent.
  • Domestic enplanements on mainline and regional air carriers increased from 696.3M in 2015 to 726.2M (4.3 percent) in 2016.  Domestic mainline carrier enplanements increased 5.8 percent, while domestic regional carrier enplanements decreased 0.9 percent. International enplanements on mainline and regional air carriers increased from 90.2M in 2015 to 93.4M (3.6percent) in 2016.  Mainline carrier international enplanements were up 3.1 percent, while regional carrier international enplanements increased 16.0 percent.
  • Domestic RPMs by mainline and regional air carriers increased from 628.5B in 2015 to 663.2B (5.5 percent) in 2016. Domestic mainline carrier RPMs increased 6.1 percent and domestic regional carrier RPMs increased 0.3 percent. International RPMs by US carriers increased from 261.0B in 2015 to 264.8B (1.5 percent) in 2016. Total system RPMs increased from 889.5B in 2015 to 928.0B (4.3 percent) in 2016. Total mainline carrier RPMs increased by 4.6 percent while total regional carrier RPMs increased by 0.9 percent.
  • U.S. commercial air carriers (including passenger and cargo) reported an operating profit of $29.6B in 2016, compared to an operating profit of $26.7B in 2015. Operating revenues decreased 0.1 percent in 2016, while operating expenses decreased 1.7 percent.
  • In 2016 total landings and takeoffs at combined FAA and contract towers were up 0.5 percent from 2015. Air carrier activity increased by 4.8 percent, while commuter/air taxi activity decreased by 4.0 percent. General aviation activity dropped 0.2 percent, while military aircraft activity dropped 1.3 percent.  

II. ECONOMIC ASSUMPTIONS FOR FAA FORECASTS

  • U.S. Real GDP is forecast to increase from $16.6T in 2016 to $25.4T in 2037, an average annual rate of 2.1 percent.  World GDP is forecast to grow at a faster pace of 2.8 percent over the same 21-year period, from $76.7T to $137.1T. 
GDP by World Region (Average Annual Percent Growth)
World RegionFiscal YearCalendar Year
2016201720182017-372016201620182017-37
U.S1.62.12.52.01.62.32.62.1
WorldN/AN/AN/AN/A2.32.73.02.8
CanadaN/AN/AN/AN/A1.32.12.42.0
Europe/Afr/MEN/AN/AN/AN/A1.71.72.02.1
Latin AmericaN/AN/AN/AN/A(1.1)1.22.33.1
Asia/PacificN/AN/AN/AN/A4.34.34.43.9
  • Inflation is projected to increase 2.4 percent in 2017 and remain moderate over the remaining 20 years of the forecast period, averaging 2.5 percent annually.

 III. AVIATION ACTIVITY FORECASTS          

 Mainline Air Carrier and Regionals

  • Total mainline air carrier and regional RPMs are forecast to increase from 928.0B in 2016 to 1.53T in 2037, an average annual rate of 2.4 percent. Domestic RPMs are projected to increase 3.2 percent in 2017 and then grow an average of 2.0 percent per year during the remaining 20-year forecast period.  International RPMs are forecast to increase 1.9 percent in 2017 and then grow an average of 3.4 percent per year for the rest of the forecast period. 
  • Total mainline air carrier and regional enplanements are forecast to increase from 819.6M in 2016 to 1.23B in 2037, an average annual rate of 1.9 percent. Domestic enplanements are projected to increase 2.2 percent in 2017 and then grow an average of 1.7 percent per year during the remaining 20-year forecast period.  International enplanements are forecast to increase 2.3 percent in 2017 and then grow an average of 3.5 percent per year for the rest of the forecast period. 

Mainline Air Carriers

  •  U.S. mainline carrier domestic RPMs are forecast to increase 3.5 percent in 2017 and grow at an average annual rate of 1.9 percent for the remaining 20 years of the forecast period. U.S. mainline carrier domestic enplanements are forecast to increase 2.6 percent in 2017. For the remaining 20 years of the forecast period, enplanements grow at an average annual rate of 1.7 percent, reaching 824.6M in 2037. 
  • U.S. mainline carrier international RPMs are forecast to increase 1.9 percent in 2017 and grow at an average annual rate of 3.4 percent for the remaining 20 years of the forecast period. U.S. mainline carrier enplanements are forecast to increase 2.4 percent in 2017, and then grow an average of 3.5 percent per year thereafter, reaching 184.6M in 2037. The fastest growing region is Latin America (4.1 percent per year), followed by the Atlantic (2.7 percent per year), and Asia/Pacific (2.5 percent per year).
U.S. Mainline Air Carriers
Enplanements by World Region
(Average Annual Percent Growth)
World RegionFiscal Year
2016201720182017-37
Domestic5.82.62.71.7
International3.12.43.63.5
Atlantic(1.0)(0.3)4.72.7
Latin America5.93.63.44.1
Asia/Pacific0.62.82.62.5
System5.42.62.92.0
  •  Total passengers to/from the U.S. (U.S. and foreign flag carriers) are projected to increase 4.7 percent in 2017 (calendar year).  The average annual rate of growth between 2017 and 2037 is 3.6 percent, with passengers increasing from 228.8M to 467.1M. The fastest growing region is Latin America at 3.9 percent per year, followed by Asia/Pacific (3.8 percent per year), Canadian Transborder (3.5 percent per year) and Atlantic (3.4 percent per year). 
U.S. Mainline & Foreign Flag Air Carriers
Passengers by World Region
(Average Annual Percent Growth)
World RegionCalendar Year
2016201720182017-37
Total U.S./Foreign Flag5.34.72.83.6
Atlantic4.84.63.03.4
Latin America5.55.21.23.9
Asia/Pacific8.44.44.43.8
Canadian Transborder2.03.84.43.5
  • Domestic mainline passenger real yield (adjusted for inflation) is forecast to decrease from 13.96 cents in 2016 to 13.70 cents in 2017 (down 1.8 percent).  Thereafter, domestic mainline carrier real yield declines at an average rate of 0.3 percent, dropping to 12.87 cents in 2037. International mainline real yield is forecast to decrease from 12.88 cents in 2016 to 12.78 cents in 2017 (down 0.8 percent).  Thereafter, international real yield declines at a rate of 0.6 percent annually, falling to 11.30 cents by 2037. 
U.S. Mainline Air Carriers
Real Yield
(Average Annual Percent Growth)
RegionFiscal Year
2016201720182017-37
Domestic(6.5)(1.8)(0.2)(0.3)
International(9.9)(0.8)(0.5)(0.6)
  • U.S. mainline air carrier passenger jet fleet increases from 4,068 aircraft in 2016 to 5,199 aircraft in 2037, an average annual increase of 1.2 percent. The fleet is projected to decrease by 1.5 percent in 2017 (62 aircraft), driven by a decrease in the narrow body fleet. 

Regional Carriers

  • Regional carrier enplanements are forecast to increase 0.6 percent to 156.0M in 2017, and grow 1.7 percent a year thereafter, reaching 217.4M in 2037.
U.S. Regional Air Carrier Enplanements
(Average Annual Percent Growth)
RegionFiscal Year
2016201720182017-2037
Domestic(0.9)0.62.71.7
International16.00.62.71.7
  • Regional carrier RPMs are forecast to increase 0.7 percent in 2017 and grow at an average annual rate of 2.1 percent for the remaining 20 years of the forecast period.
  • The regional carrier passenger aircraft fleet decreases from 2,156 aircraft in 2016 to 2,027 aircraft in 2037, an average annual decrease of 0.3 percent. The fleet is projected to shrink 5.1 percent in 2017 (111 aircraft).

    - Regional jets increase from 1,637 aircraft in 2016 to 1,828 aircraft in 2037, an annual increase of 0.5percent.  All of the increase is attributed to jet aircraft in the 70-90-seat category.

 Cargo

  • Total air cargo RTMs (freight/express and mail) increase from 36.0B in 2016 to 66.4B in 2037 – up an average of 3.0 percent a year; domestic RTMs increase 1.3 percent a year; international RTMs increase 3.8 percent a year.
U.S. Commercial Air Carriers
Air Cargo Revenue Ton Miles
(Average Annual Percent)
RegionFiscal Year
2016201720182017-2037
Total(0.9)1.43.23.1
Domestic1.81.73.11.3
International(2.4)1.33.34.0
  • The cargo fleet increases from 810 aircraft in 2016 to 1,044 aircraft in 2037, an average increase of 1.2 percent a year. 

 General Aviation

  • The general aviation fleet increases from 209,905 aircraft in 2016 to 213,420 in 2037, growing an average of 0.1 percent a year.
    - Fixed-wing turbine aircraft grow at a rate of 1.9 percent per year, fixed-wing piston aircraft–decline at a rate of 0.8 percent per year, and rotorcraft grow at a rate of 1.6 percent per year.
  • General aviation hours flown are forecast to increase from 24.6M in 2016 to 29.9M in 2037, an average annual growth rate of 0.9 percent a year.
    - Fixed-wing turbine aircraft hours flown grow at a rate of 2.5 percent per year, fixed-wing piston aircraft hours flown decline at a rate of 0.8 percent per year, and rotorcraft hours flown grow at a rate of 2.0 percent per year.

IV. FAA WORKLOAD FORECASTS         

Operations at Airports with FAA Traffic Control and Contract Tower Service

Total operations are forecast to increase 0.9percent to 50.5M in 2017, and then grow at an average annual rate of 0.8 percent for the remainder of the forecast period, reaching 59.3M in 2037.  The average annual growth rate for the entire 21-year forecast period is 0.8 percent. 

  • Commercial operations increase 1.9 percent in 2017, and grow at a rate of 1.4 percent thereafter, reaching 29.5M in 2037.
  • General aviation operations increase 0.3 percent in 2017, and grow at a rate of 0.3 percent thereafter, totaling 27.3M in 2037.

Terminal Radar Approach Control (TRACON) Operations

TRACON operations are forecast to increase 1.1 percent to 38.1M in 2017, and then grow at an average annual rate of 1.0 percent for the remainder of the forecast period, reaching 46.2M in 2037.  The average annual growth rate for the entire 21-year forecast period is 1.0 percent. 

  • Commercial TRACON operations increase 1.8 percent in 2017, and grow at a rate of 1.3 percent thereafter, reaching 29.6M in 2037.
  • General aviation TRACON operations are unchanged in 2017, and grow at a rate of 0.4 percent thereafter, totaling 14.3M in 2037.

Aircraft Handled at Air Route Traffic Control Centers

IFR aircraft handled at FAA air route traffic control centers are forecast to increase to 44.2M (2.3 percent) in 2017
and then grow 1.3 percent a year over the remaining 20 years of the forecast period, reaching 57.7M in 2037.

  • Commercial IFR aircraft handled increase from 34.1M in 2016 to 35.0M in 2017 (2.6 percent).  Thereafter commercial IFR aircraft handled grow at an average annual rate of 1.5 percent, reaching 47.3M in 2037.
  • General aviation IFR aircraft handled increase 1.7 percent during 2017. Thereafter, general aviation IFR aircraft handled grow at an average annual rate of 0.8 percent, reaching 8.6M in 2037.  

V. UNMANNED AIRCRAFT SYSTEM (UAS) FORECASTS         

Hobbyist Fleet

  • The small model hobbyist fleet is forecast to more than triple in size from 1.1M vehicles in 2016 to 3.55M units in 2021.  The average annual growth rate over the 5-year forecast period is 26.4 percent. 
  • FAA has also developed high and low ranges around the hobbyist fleet forecast reflecting uncertainty about the public’s continued adoption of this new technology. 
  • In the high case, the small model hobbyist fleet by 2021 is projected to be about 4.5M units. In the low case, the small model hobbyist fleet by 2021 is projected to be about 2.75M units.

Non Hobbyist Fleet

  • The commercial, non-hobbyist fleet is forecast to grow from 42,000 in 2016 to 442,000 in 2021. The average annual growth rate over the 5-year forecast period is 58.6 percent. 
  • The FAA’s non-hobbyist (commercial) UAS fleet size forecast contain certain broad assumptions about operating limitations for small UAS during the next five years based on the basic constraints of the existing regulations including daytime operations, within visual line of sight, and a single pilot operating only one small UAS at a time.  The main difference in the high and low end of the forecasts is the differing assumptions about how quickly the regulatory environment will evolve, enabling more widespread routine uses of UAS for commercial purposes. 
  • In a high case, the number of non-hobbyist units is 1.62M in 2021; in a low case, the number is 237,900.  

Remote Pilots

  • The number of remote pilots is forecast to increase from 20,362 in 2016 to 281,300 in 2021.  The average annual growth rate over the 5-year forecast period is 69.1 percent. 
  • FAA has also developed high and low ranges around the remote pilot forecast, reflecting uncertainty in the ratio of remote pilots per commercial UAS vehicles. 
  • In a high case, the number of remote pilots in 2021 is 422,000; in a low case the number is 211,000.    

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This page was originally published at: https://www.faa.gov/news/fact_sheets/news_story.cfm?newsId=21514