The FAA has released its annual aviation activity forecast calling for U.S. carrier passenger growth of 2 percent a year through 2035, and a "favorable" outlook for general aviation as a growing fleet generates an expected 1.4-percent annual increase in hours flown.
U.S. air carrier revenue passenger miles, each representing one paying passenger traveling one mile, were projected to grow an average 2.5 percent per year through 2035.
"The long term outlook for general aviation is favorable, and near term also looks promising especially for piston aircraft activity which is sensitive to fuel price movements," said the FAA Aerospace Forecast for Fiscal Years 2015-2035.
General aviation’s fleet was forecast to increase 0.4 percent yearly, from 198,860 aircraft in 2014 to 214,260 in 2035. Fixed-wing turbine aircraft were forecast to drive general aviation fleet growth at a rate of 2.2 percent per year, while rotorcraft growth was forecast at 2.5 percent per year. Fixed-wing piston aircraft were forecast to decline at a rate of 0.6 percent per year. Light sport aircraft, however, were forecast to increase in numbers from 2,056 active aircraft in 2013 to 5,360, for an annual growth rate of 4.3 percent.
Business use of general aviation aircraft was forecast to "expand at a faster pace" than personal or recreational use based on survey data
The total active pilot population was forecast to grow from 593,499 in 2014 to 617,000 in 2035. The active private pilot population, 174,883 in 2014, was forecast to decline to 163,400 in 2035, a yearly decline of 0.3 percent. The student pilot population was forecast to decrease at a similar average annual rate, from 120,546 in 2014 to 112,200 in 2035.
The report forecasts that IFR aircraft handled at FAA air route traffic control centers would increase from 41.8 million in 2015 to 56.1 million in 2035, or 1.5 percent annually. Of that volume, general aviation IFR aircraft handled was forecast to grow at an average annual rate of 0.8 percent, to 8 million in 2035.
"The improving economy continues to bode well for the health of the U.S air transportation system," said FAA Administrator Michael Huerta, announcing the findings in a news release. "The FAA and industry are continuing to deploy NextGen technologies and procedures to ensure that the nation’s aviation system can safely and efficiently meet our growing airspace demands."
FAA estimates of fleet size, hours flown, and utilization of aircraft use baseline figures from the General Aviation and Part 135 Activity Survey (GA Survey), in which AOPA encourages pilots who are contacted to provide data to participate. The survey methodology was improved beginning in 2004, and "The results of the 2013 GA Survey are consistent with the results of surveys conducted since 2004, reinforcing our belief that the methodological improvements have resulted in superior estimates relative to those of the past," the FAA said.
The 2013 GA Survey results also "reflect the majority of the anticipated effect of the 2010 Rule for Re-Registration and Renewal of Aircraft Registration," which required all aircraft registered in the U.S. to re-register within the three-year period from 2011 to 2013. The complete effect would be noted after the 2014 Survey, which is now in the data-collection process.
The FAA’s forecast of economic activity during the "muted recovery," now in its sixth year, took into account an expected "sharp decline" of oil prices to $60 per barrel in 2015 from an average of $97.76 per barrel in fiscal year 2014, measured by the U.S. Refiners’ Acquisition Cost for West Texas Intermediate crude oil. After 2015, the forecast calls for the per-barrel price of oil to rise until it exceeds $100 per barrel by 20212, "keeping a lid on U.S. economic growth during the same period," the report said