The Airports Council International (ACI) has recently warned that the airport industry might be unable to handle the capacity surge as demand for air cargo grows — both on the passenger and cargo side.


In a statement, ACI, the trade association of the world’s airports, said it finds the airport industry in a ‘high wire balancing act’ in meeting demand with the World Airport Traffic forecasts showing global traffic is set to reach 19.7 billion by 2040.


Double air traffic demand


It noted that global traffic reached 8.8 billion in 2018,  and is forecasted to double by 2037. Over the long term, it is projected to grow at an annualized rate of 3.7%, reaching 19.7 billion by 2040.


"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," ACI said. 


The US and India will follow, with 2.9 and 1.3 billion passengers respectively and together, 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 also expected to rapidly climb in the country rankings, reaching the fourth position by 2036.


In meeting this strong demand, ACI said, "the airport industry faces a balancing act."


Capacity constraints at airports 

"Airport operators already face capacity constraints and the predicament of surging air transport demand outstripping available airport infrastructure. At the same time, the industry must contend with increased protectionism, isolationism, and risks associated with climate change that could stifle this growth," it added.


“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. 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," said ACI World director general Angela Gittens.


“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," she added.


ACI further said that action must be taken to address the growing infrastructure gap with more than 200 airports already requiring slot coordination because they have insufficient capacity to meet demand.


Government, industry action


Government regulators and the aviation industry, the airport association said, should come together to ensure that existing capacity can be better utilized while facilitating new and improved infrastructure to improve efficiency and the passenger experience.


The consequences of inaction are stark, according to ACI with seamless air traffic management, Eurocontrol, projecting 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.


"Air transport forecasts are crucial for airport planning and the determination of future capacity requirements. Because infrastructure projects are costly and often disruptive, a data-driven understanding of future demand — such as the expected number of aircraft movements, passenger traffic throughput and air cargo volumes — gives airport planners and investors the necessary information for effective decision-making," it added.