FAA Predicts 1 Billion Travelers on US airlines by 2021

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The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) says U.S. airline passenger numbers will reach the 1 billion mark by 2021. That's two years faster than previously forecast.

Officials also predict, in a 20-year travel forecast released today, that the number of passengers on U.S. airlines will increase by 3.5% this year.

In total, 737.4 million passengers will travel on U.S. airlines in 2011, the FAA says. The agency projects that figure will then grow an average of 2.8 percent each year to 2031.

The agency says the growth increases the need for the new Next Generation (NextGen) satellite-based air traffic control system to replace the current radar-based technology.

"We need to invest in aviation today to make sure America's economy remains competitive," says U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood in a prepared statement. "Innovative NextGen technology will help meet the demands of the future by getting passengers to their destinations safely and more quickly."

Takeoffs and landings at FAA towered airports are forecast to slightly decrease in 2011, the FAA says. But those numbers are then projected to grow at an average annual rate of 1.6 percent each year, reaching 69.4 million in 2031.

The FAA says international traffic this year will grow more quickly than domestic travel, with the agency projecting a 7.8% increase in international passengers and a 3% increase in domestic passengers. That trend is expected to continue.

Yesterday, the International Air Traffic Association, which represents some 230 airlines, predicted there will be 3.3 billion air passengers worldwide by 2014, up 32% from 2009, with much of the growth coming from China.

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