Flight forecast to 2040 - Challenges of Growth Annex 1

20 September 2018

Looking 20 or more years ahead, it is more robust to consider not just a single forecast, but a range of potential scenarios for how air transport in Europe, and the factors influencing it, might develop. Through a stakeholder workshop and other consultations, four scenarios have been constructed, each describing a separate possible future from 2023 (the end of the 7-year forecast produced in September 2017) to 2040. They are:

  • Global Growth: Strong economic growth in an increasingly globalised world with technology used to mitigate effects of sustainability challenges.
  • Regulation and Growth: Moderate growth regulated to reconcile demand with sustainability issues. (Most-Likely)
  • Happy Localism: Like Regulation and Growth but with a fragile Europe adapting to less globalisation, i.e. looking increasingly inwards.
  • Fragmenting World: A world of increasing regional tensions and reduced globalisation.

For Europe (ECAC) as a whole, the Regulation and Growth scenario (most-likely) has 16.2 million flights in 2040, 53% more than 2017 (Figure 1). That is 1.9% average annual growth per year over the 2017-2040 period, a rather slower growth rate than before 2008. Indeed, over the 20 years before the economic crisis, the number of IFR movements in Europe doubled from 5 million IFR movements in 1988 to 10 million in 2008. The deceleration in growth over the next 20 years is explained by slower rates of economic growth, increasing fuel prices and increasing congestion at airports.

The recent return to traffic growth after 10 years of stagnation has been vigorous, and there are newer growth drivers—long-haul, low-cost new aircraft types, middle-class growth in China, changes in propensity to fly—which are under-represented in our forecast models because of their short histories. For this reason we recommend that, in addition to the Regulation and Growth (most-likely) scenario, particular attention is paid to the Global Growth scenario, which forecasts 84% growth in flights to 19.5 million.

Compared to the 20-year forecast published in 2013, and despite the fragile growth rates over the last five years, the current traffic matches the most-likely scenario from 2013, so the starting point of this new 20-year forecast is consistent with the previous one.

Air traffic growth will be limited by the available capacity at the airports; this forecast is based on capacity plans reported by airports in a new survey. The combination of a slightly slower forecast, together with expanded airport capacity plans is that, in the Regulation and Growth (most-likely) scenario, around 1.5 million flights (accounting for 8% of the demand) will not be accommodated in 2040. The congestion is now lower than in the previous forecast at 2035, partly because the capacity expansion plans have been added where the bottlenecks will be. However, when the capacity limits are reached, congestion at airports will increase quite rapidly (especially in Global Growth) which will lead to extra pressure on the network, and more delays.


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