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Air travel demand will grow steadily for next 20 years, FAA predicts

Air travel demand will grow steadily for next 20 years, FAA predicts
Travelers line up at the Southwest Airlines ticketing counter at Los Angeles International Airport last year. A report from the FAA says demand for air travel will grow an average annual rate of 2.5% over the next 20 years. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

Demand for air travel will grow at an average annual rate of 2.5%, with 1 billion passengers traveling on U.S.-based carriers by 2029, according to a federal forecast released Monday.

The forecast by the Federal Aviation Administration predicts steady growth for the next 20 years despite oil prices that could reach beyond $100 per barrel by 2021, up from around $45 per barrel in recent days.

The airline industry will increase capacity -- in the form of more planes and extra seats -- but at a measured pace, adding only enough growth to meet demand, the FAA predicts. The industry will not revert to older airline tactics of adding planes and seats beyond demand in a battle for market share, the annual forecast said

Instead, carriers are likely to grow by replacing small regional jets with larger jets that fly less frequently, the report says. The size of the airline industry's commercial fleet is expected to grow by a modest 0.9% per year, according to the report.

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The percentage of seats that are filled on U.S. carriers, a measurement of how crowded planes are, is 83.4%, the report said. The rate of filled seats is expected to inch up to 84.2% by 2035.

"The improving economy continues to bode well for the health of the U.S. air transportation system," FAA Administrator Michael Huerta said.

To read more about travel, tourism and the airline industry, follow me on Twitter at @hugomartin.

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