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The world’s airports are increasingly facing a “high wire balancing act” as they struggle to meet traffic demand at the same time as contending with issues outside of their control, such as the rise in protectionism, isolationism, and risks associated with climate change, says ACI World.

Having reached 8.8 billion in 2018, global traffic is forecast to double by 2037, reveals ACI World, although over the long term, it is projected to grow at an annualised rate of 3.7%, reaching 19.7 billion by 2040. 

Beijing bum

China is projected to become the largest passenger market in 2031 and then to dominate passenger rankings in 2040, with more than 3.5 billion passengers which equates to an 18% share of the global passenger traffic market.

The US and India will follow, with 2.9 and 1.3 billion passengers respectively, mean that between them the three countries will handle almost 40% of global passenger traffic.

Indonesia, currently the tenth largest market in terms of total passenger traffic worldwide, is expected to rapidly climb in the country rankings, reaching the fourth position by 2036.

However, in meeting this strong demand, ACI claims that airport operators have to find the right balance between raising their capacity to keep pace with demand and coping with other issues that could stymie their growth.


“There is no doubt that the future of the industry is positive with ACI’s forecasts showing passenger traffic worldwide is expected to double to more than 17 billion by 2037,” notes ACI World’s director general, Angela Gittens.

“In the short term, however, isolationist policies have fuelled a retraction from decades of progress toward greater global economic integration which will inevitably restrain the efficient flow of people, goods and services.

“While it is evident air transport very much relies on open markets to grow, it is also evident that, in markets with strong air transport demand, airport operators already face capacity constraints that could limit growth.

“Action must be taken to address this growing infrastructure gap.

“Given that more than 200 airports already require slot co-ordination because they have insufficient capacity to meet demand, government regulators must come together with the aviation industry to ensure that existing capacity can be better utilised while facilitating new and improved infrastructure to improve efficiency and the passenger experience.

pax Norway

“The consequences of inaction are stark. We see for example that EUROCONTROL projects that 1.5 million flights – the equivalent of 160 million passengers – will be unable to fly by 2040. An estimated 470,000 passengers will be delayed one to two hours per day in 2040, compared to 50,000 delayed passengers per day in 2016.”


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