Infrastructure investment remains crucial

Sustained investment in aviation infrastructure is crucial to the continuing growth of commercial aviation. Airports, national airspace management agencies, and airlines share challenges and opportunities of aviation growth.

Boeing analysis indicates that congestion at certain airports around the world will increase over the next 20 years as projected commercial air traffic growth drives demand for takeoffs and landings to reach or surpass airport capacity. The world's busiest airports, such as London's Heathrow, have already reached their limits for hourly airplane movements, even with slot controls.

Many airports have capacity to meet projected traffic growth. Other airports have the capacity to handle demand efficiently during off-peak hours, but are constrained during morning and/or evening hours when demand is highest. Continued infrastructure investment is particularly important in regions, such as China, Northeast and Southeast Asia, India, and Latin America, where aviation growth outpaces planned infrastructure development.

Capital improvements

Airport authorities around the world are investing in large capital projects, including new or improved runways, terminal expansions, and entirely new airports. These investments can significantly increase airport capacity, but are substantial, and development times typically extend more than a decade from initial planning to completion of construction. Community noise and environmental concerns often stretch development times further and may limit the scope of expansion.

Airspace management enhancements

Many national and regional airspace management agencies are engaged in programs to overhaul airspace systems. For example, the United States is implementing the NextGen program to help airports run smoother and avoid long takeoff lines on the runway. This type of program is implemented gradually, and the improvements in airport efficiency will be realized over time.

Airlines have implemented a number of approaches to manage airport crowding. In particular, airlines have replaced smaller airplanes such as regional jets with larger single-aisle airplanes, helping to ease demand for takeoff and landing slots during peak periods. Creating secondary hubs and expanding service to secondary airports also can ease congestion at the busiest airports. Airline alliances have proven effective in allowing airlines to expand route systems without duplicating services that would add to congestion.

In sum, although airports and governmental air services agencies will need to continue investing in infrastructure improvements, and airlines will need to evolve strategic responses at some airports, congestion will not be a major limiting factor to commercial air traffic growth during the forecast period.