18 July 2010

Boeing's Eye-popping 2030 Air Travel Forecast

The incredible graph above comes from Boeing's forecast of air travel to 2030 (PDF). The figure shows that RPKs (revenue passenger kilometers) are projected to increase by a factor of 6 by 2029 from their 1990 values. Boeings' forecast from 2000 for 2000-2019 underforecast growth in air travel demand.

What is a critical factor for anticipating growth in demand for air travel? Not surprisingly, GDP growth:
Here is what Boeing says about the relationship between GDP and air travel:

Growth in air travel, measured in revenue passenger-kilometers (RPK), has historically outpaced economic growth, represented by GDP, by approximately 1.5 to 2.0 percent. This leads us to conclude that about 60 to 80 percent of air travel growth can be attributed to economic growth, which in turn is driven, in part, by international trade. This is consistent with the observation that countries whose economies are tied to trade tend to have higher rates of air travel. Air travel revenues consistently total about 1 percent of GDP in countries around the world, regardless of the size of the national economy. Globally, air travel has historically trended toward this consistent share of GDP, such that countries that are below or above this level will generally move toward it over the long term.

The remaining 20 to 40 percent of air travel growth results from the stimulation provided by the value travelers place on the speed and convenience that only air travel can offer. For example, travelers value choice of arrival and departure times, routings, nonstop flights, choice of carriers, service class, and fares. Liberalization is the primary driver enabling value creation in the global air transport network. Liberalization typically gives rise to a "bump" in traffic demand. Studies suggest that as the relative openness of a country's bilateral air service rises from the 20th percentile to the 70th, the resulting increase in traffic can boost air travel demand by an additional 30 percent.

Often, economic growth, induced directly and indirectly by improved air services, creates a virtuous circle that leads to further air transport growth, which in turn leads to added economic growth, and so on.

This suggests some simple logic with straightforward implications:

*Demand for air travel rises with GDP increases
*Increasing GDP leads to increasing emissions
*Policy makers around the world are focus on sustained GDP growth
*New generations of aircraft are expected to be more fuel efficient
*Increased demand will have a much larger than efficiency gains on aviation emissions
*Aviation emissions are going to increase dramatically under this scenario

The inevitable implication of this logic is a need for technological advances in either carbon neutral liquid fuels (e.g., biofuels) or carbon capture and storage. Any other options?


  1. Fortunately, there is more than one path to energy efficiency. Engines are getting lots more efficient. Fuselages are getting lighter. Swept wings are around the corner.

    There's a lot yet to be done with routing--reclassifying no go zones from the cold war, allowing direct descent, eliminating stacking over airports.

    And hey--they can always put straps in there and let commuters stand...

    But remember that air travel is less than 5% of emissions now. Is that projected increase any greater than what we expect to see in ground or sea transportation? Buildings?

  2. This seems a bit optimistic to me. If you just look at Europe and the North America, there was a 50% increase over the last 20 years yet they are projecting a 100% increase over the next 20 years. With aging populations in both regions and less disposable income, I'd be surprised if these these traditional dominant markets continued to grow at even the same rate. Much business travel is simply to exchange information. This can just as easily be done on-line. Leisure travel will grow but not enough to support the projections in Europe and North America in these graphs.

  3. US Domestic Airlines 'energy intensity' dropped from 8,633 BTU's/passenger mile in 1960 to 2,921 BTU's/passenger mile in 2008.


  4. See http://www.sciencedirect.com/science?_ob=ArticleURL&_udi=B6VFV-4X6M9CM-1&_user=1005040&_coverDate=02%2F28%2F2010&_alid=1404325781&_rdoc=1&_fmt=high&_orig=search&_cdi=6020&_sort=r&_docanchor=&view=c&_ct=1&_acct=C000047720&_version=1&_urlVersion=0&_userid=1005040&md5=03e902756bd41f6ace04b8f1036035fa

    The popping of eyes will not stop in 2030

  5. A cracking graph again, Roger. I nicked your Chinese Airports and Developing Economies' Coal Consumption ones for a guest post July 15th on The Air Vent last week, I hope that doesn't fall foul of your plagiarism definition! I shall undoubtedly be using this one somewhere too.....

  6. I would think China's air travel fraction should be much higher in the future, considering their plans to build 100 new airports in the next 15 years. And Sean is probably right about NA and Europe--I can't see that 100% gain, either.

  7. Sorry, but I don't buy into the need for carbon neutrality. That's a Trojan Horse.

  8. I think the point Roger is making is about GDP and emissions rather than the airline industry in particular. Every index of environmental purity will be made worse by carbon trading because it favours developing nations. It will accelerate the creation of a billion new car drivers and a millions of dirty factories. It is an investment banker's dream.

  9. ... and the converse, reducing energy usage to reduce carbon contributions would mean a lower standard of living for billions. Energy is strongly correlated to prosperity. I don't see how one can argue morally for articial energy development contraints without *far* strong evidence that the cost of mitigation isn't far cheaper in terms of global prosperity than carbon caps.

    Until we have deployable cost competive low carbon solutions, mitigation is the choice that doesn't value the quasi religious "static environment" over human developement.

    Yes, end carbon technology subsidies, and continue researching long term sustainable energy source, but don't withhold economic growth.

  10. “…technological advances in either carbon neutral liquid fuels (e.g., biofuels) or carbon capture and storage. Any other options?”

    There would be substantial carbon reduction using liquefied natural gas as fuel.

  11. Try designing a passenger aircraft that is fueled by LNG. Somehow I don't think the carrying capacity will be very high.

  12. Luckily, we in the aviation industry are hard at work on this issue. We know we contribute to climate change and we know we are growing.

    That has been the catalyst for the leaders in the aviation industry to develop a comprehensive set of targets for reducing carbon emissions, despite forecast growth. Indeed, at the very same event that Boeing released its market forecast - the Farnborough Air Show - it also debuted the first international flight of its revolutionary new 787 aircraft.

    The position paper we have been providing to the world's governments at the global climate talks can be found here: [www.enviro.aero/cng2020]. How do we get there? As Tom says, there are some amazing advances in fuel efficiency that can be found in technology [www.enviro.aero/aviationefficiency] and we are also very close to the use of sustainable aviation biofuels [www.enviro.aero/biofuels].

    I am glad to say that aviation is one industry that truly does have its act together - it's a pity others are not so advanced in their plans to contribute to global reductions in carbon emissions.

    Haldane Dodd
    Air Transport Action Group, Geneva

  13. Air traffic in my view is unlikely to be that high, for two reasons.

    First, as other comments say, a considerable amount of business travel in the future may not be necessary as video conferencing becomes both cheaper and better. When you can read expressions and body language by video conference, you won't have as much need for business travel.

    The other reason is "traffic jams." Flying becomes less interesting if you can't get a flight out of Heathrow or JFK when you want to, or (the economics solution) those flights cost much more than flights, say, 2 days before the weekend in the evening or early AM. I don't have to fly to New England from the mid-Atlantic, I can drive there, too.

  14. Agree with Tom G. that video conferencing can play a role in slowing the growth of "required" business travel. I doubt we will ever get to a world where no travel is required, (if that is even desirable) but the frequency of travel to locations where you have an established relationship should be reduced as adoption of videoconferencing grows and as secure, quality video conferencing migrates from proprietary hardware to software on the desktop.

    Jeff Urdan