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Who’s flying where: top trends in air travel

Ever have the feeling that the world is getting smaller and smaller? Until I travelled abroad as a student at university, the longest trip I’d ever been on was the annual five-hour car journey to visit my paternal grandparents. Today being mobile is a defining characteristic in our lives and it’s easier to feel connected to those who, in distance terms, are far away. It’s not unthinkable for professionals to drive halfway across the country to attend an hour-long meeting with customers. Or to fly to a neighbouring one for a weekly jour fixe. Sausage and sauerkraut for lunch, bœuf bourguignon for dinner.

Flying in particular has greatly facilitated this sense of growing closer together as an international community. The possibility to hop from continent to continent in round about 8 hours makes it easy (or at least a lot easier) to travel abroad, do business internationally, live in a foreign country – the list goes on. And from how things look, flying will have a prosperous future. In Autumn 2014 the International Air Transport Association (IATA), an airline trade association that represents around 84% of the world’s air traffic, released its first-ever passenger growth forecast for the next 20 years. It’s findings in a nutshell: the skies are getting fuller and fuller, but who is travelling and where is changing.

The forecast figures

What does this mean concretely? In 2014, airlines shuttled around 3.3 billion passengers from point A to point B. By 2034 this number is expected to grow to 7.3 billion passengers annually – more than double the current numbers! But passengers’ nationalities and the countries planes serve will differ from today according to factors such as standard of living, population growth or decline and demographics. Ticket prices and availability will also play central roles.

If the projections become reality, China and the USA will represent the two largest passenger markets in 2034, with China predicted to overtake the US and assume the title of world’s largest passenger market by around 2030. In terms of countries that will see the biggest growth in percentage, the vast majority will be in Africa. Generally speaking, flights to locations in Asia and South America are expected to boom.

Other key findings:

  • Some of the biggest European markets – Germany, Spain, France and Italy – will move down in rank.
  • India will significantly grow to become the world’s third largest market by circa 2031.
  • Brazil and Indonesia will also see marked increases and become the world’s 5th and 6th biggest passenger markets, respectively.
  • Japan will decline in importance as a passenger market.


All this makes sense. Countries expected to experience strong population growth and economic development in the coming two decades will comprise the most important air travel markets in terms of passenger numbers. Though these factors alone are not enough: governments must simultaneously invest in the infrastructure required to accommodate an uptake in air travel. The upfront financial costs may be high, but investing in connectivity is an excellent way to stimulate local economies. Another hot button issue that always accompanies travel topics: sustainability. According to the aviation industry, airlines are undertaking great measures to decrease their carbon footprint to ensure flying will be a sustainable mode of transportation in years to come. Let’s hope they do!

Curious to learn more? Read the full summary of the IATA report.