FAA is projecting significant rises in US air passenger and air cargo traffic, as well as a doubling of the hobbyist unmanned aircraft vehicle (UAV) fleet in the next five years, according to its annual Aerospace Forecast for fiscal years 2018-2038.

Projections for UAVs are now part of FAA’s forecast for a second year running, with the agency forecasting the small model hobbyist UAV fleet to more than double over the next five years—from 1.1 million UAVs in operation in 2017 to 2.4 million in 2022. The commercial small, non-model UAV fleet is projected to increase from 110,604 at the end of 2017 to 451,800 by 2022. The number of remote pilots is expected to quadruple, from 73,673 in 2017 to 301,000 in 2022.

FAA predicts US airline enplanements will increase by approximately 439 million passengers by 2038. “All indicators show that air travel in the US is strong and … the trend will continue,” FAA said in its report. “This is occurring while [US] air travelers are experiencing the highest levels of safety in modern aviation history.”

Traffic growth by US mainline and regional carriers will increase at an average rate of 2.5% per year, with domestic traffic forecast to increase 5.2% in 2018 and at an annual average of 2% per year through 2038. International traffic is projected to increase 4% in 2018 and at an average 3.2% per year over the next two decades. The entire US system will see traffic increase 16.8% by 2038, FAA projected, from 954.6 billion RPMs in 2017 to 1.6 trillion RPMs by 2038.

Passenger growth on US carriers will increase from 840.8 million in 2017 to 1.28 billion in 2038, an average rate of 2% per year growth over the next 20 years, up slightly from last year’s forecast. Domestic passenger enplanements are expected to grow 4.7% in 2018 and then at an average 1.7% annual pace through 2038 while international enplanements will increase 5% in 2018 and grow at 3.3% annual rate over the next two decades.

For US carriers, Latin America will continue to be the largest international destination. Between 2018 and 2038, Latin America enplanements are forecast to increase 3.8% a year. Transatlantic traffic to Europe, the Middle East and Africa is projected to grow 2.6% per year, while traffic to the Asia-Pacific region over the next two decades is expected to grow 2.5% per year.

The total number of passengers travelling to/from the United States on US and foreign flag carriers is forecast to increase 3.6% per year over the next 20 years, growing from 228.8 million in 2017 to 467.1 million. Again, Latin American passengers will make up the largest increase, at 3.9% growth per year, followed by Asia-Pacific passengers (up 3.8% annually), Canadian trans-border passengers (up 3.5% per year) and transatlantic passengers (up 3.4% per year).

FAA’s forecast assumes US Real GDP will increase at annual rate of 2% through 2038, and world GDP will grow at a 2.8% annual rate. The forecast is similarly contingent on inflation rates remaining moderate over the next 20 years, with an average 2.4% annual rise.

The total US mainline fleet is expected to grow by 86 aircraft, or 2.1%, in 2018, driven by new narrowbody aircraft, FAA said. By 2038, the total mainline passenger jet fleet will increase from 4,057 aircraft in 2017 to 5,023, an average 1% annual increase.

The US regional fleet is expected to decrease from 2,131 aircraft in 2017 to 2,011 by 2038, down 0.2% annually. In 2018, 51 regional aircraft are expected to be removed from the US fleet, FAA said, a 2.4% year-over-year decrease. Though a 0.7% annual increase in regional jets in the 70-90 seat range is expected over the next 20 years, rising from 1,644 aircraft in 2017 to 1,910 by 2038.

US air cargo will see a significant rise as e-commerce-related traffic expands over the next two decades, with traffic increasing from 39.2 billion revenue-ton-miles in 2017 to 89.6 billion by 2038, a 3.8% annual growth rate. FAA forecasts the cargo fleet will rise from 855 aircraft in 2017 to 1,178 by 2038, growing 1.6% per year.

Mark Nensel mark.nensel@informa.com