FAA forecasts steady growth in air traffic

Washington DC
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The US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is projecting steady and moderate growth in air traffic through 2033, even as effects from cuts to the federal budget cast gloom over the aviation industry.

FAA administrator Michael Huerta says today that the aviation industry continues to show "resilience even during difficult economic times".

Traffic volumes are expected to increase by more than 75% in the next two decades, says Huerta at the Aviation Forecast and Policy Summit where the FAA unveiled its latest forecast through 2033.

About 737 million people flew on US carriers in 2012 and this number should hold steady in 2013, says Huerta. About 400 million more people could be flying on US carriers 20 years from now, he adds.

The FAA is forecasting domestic mainline enplanements to grow by 1.8% within 2012 to 2033, says Nan Shellabarger, the executive director of aviation policy and plans at the FAA. Domestic mainline capacity is expected to be limited as airlines continue to work to achieve high yields, she adds.

Domestic regional enplanements will grow 2.1% within the same period, boosted by the deployment of larger aircraft. International enplanements are expected to show the strongest growth with a 3.9% increase, says Shellabarger. Traffic to and from the Asia Pacific and Latin America will feature strongly in this growth.

The FAA's forecast through 2033, however, does not take into account the latest cuts to the agency's budget. The cuts of $85 billion across the board to the US federal budget through the end of the fiscal year on 30 September went into effect on 1 March. The FAA's budget would be cut by about $600 million for the remaining of the fiscal year.

As a result of the cuts, the FAA has warned it could close more than 100 air traffic control towers and eliminate midnight shifts at an additional 60 towers, leading to significant flight delays at major airports.