FAA 20-Year Forecast: GA Stable, Airlines Up, Drones Way Up

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The Federal Aviation Administration has dusted off its FAA-approved crystal ball and published the FAA Aerospace Forecast for 2019-2039. The extensive report takes into account global economic factors in the recent past to project demand for aircraft, pilots and facilities over the next two decades.

Broadly, the FAA sees stable growth for airlines, overall stability for general aviation even as the mix of missions and aircraft are expected to change, and dramatic growth of the UAV or drone market.

For the airlines, the FAA is predicting total enplanements to grow steadily through the period, from just over 800 million in 2019 to roughly 1.1 billion by 2039. While this rate of growth seems impressive, the FAA is actually expecting the overall rate of growth for domestic airline flying to be lower than it has in recent years. To no one’s surprise, the FAA is also predicting a steady rise in load factors for airlines from just under 85% today to a bit more than 86.5% by 2039. So you can stop dreaming of an open middle seat any day now.

For general aviation, the FAA says that the long-term outlook is “stable to optimistic, as growth at the high-end offsets continuing retirements at the traditional low end of the segment. The active general aviation fleet is forecast to remain relatively level between 2019 and 2039.” It notes that “continued growth of the turbine and rotorcraft fleets, the largest segment of the fleet—fixed wing piston aircraft—continues to shrink over the forecast.” There may be fewer light airplanes in the fleet but overall GA will be flying more, according to the prognostications. “The number of general aviation hours flown is projected to increase an average of 0.8 percent per year through 2039, as growth in turbine, rotorcraft, and experimental hours more than offset a decline in fixed wing piston hours.”

But by far the biggest surprise in the FAA’s predictions involve UAVs. More than 175,000 drones were registered with the FAA last year, which boosted the known population by a whopping 170%. Previously, the FAA predicted a 44% growth in the segment. If current trends continue, the population of registered drones could be more than 420,000 by 2020 and more than double that by 2023. “The significant growth in this sector over the past year demonstrates the uncertainty and potential of the market. We anticipate the growth rate of the sector will slow down over time. Nevertheless, the sector will be much larger than what we understood as recently as last year,” the FAA said.

Read the whole report here.