NOTE: The FAA prepared this data before COVID-19 restrictions were placed on air travel to, from, and within the United States.

WASHINGTON Commercial air travel passenger levels grew 4.2 percent on U.S. airlines in the last fiscal year (FY), from 780 million in FY 2018 to 813.3 million in FY 2019, according to The Federal Aviation Administration(FAA) Aerospace Forecast FY 2020-2040 released today.

Revenue Passenger Miles (RPMs) are the industry standard for measuring air travel demand. An RPM represents one paying passenger traveling one mile. Domestic RPMs by mainline (large) and regional air carriers increased 4.5 percent, from 719.8 billion 752.2 billion. In the United States, RPMs are projected to increase an average of 2.2 percent per year during the 20-year forecast period.

Increase in FAA workloads will coincide with the growth in air travel. According to the agencys forecast, total operations (landings and take-offs) at air traffic control towers will increase from 53 million in 2019, grow at an annual rate of 0.94 percent, and reach nearly 64 million in 2040.

The Department of Transportation (DOT) and the FAA are meeting the growth in air travel with robust infrastructure investments through Airport Improvement Program grants. In addition, the FAA is deploying satellite-based, air traffic modernization technologies and procedures that are enhancing safety while improving the efficiency of the nations airspace system.

The forecast also provides data on the projected five-year growth of Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS), or drones. The FAA projects the small/model recreational fleet will grow from 1.32 million aircraft in 2019 to 1.48 million in 2024, an average annual growth rate of 2.2 percent. The small/commercial UAS fleet is forecast to grow from 385,450 in 2019 to 828,337 in 2024, an annual growth rate of 17 percent.

Another rapidly growing aerospace sector is commercial space transportation. The FAA, which licenses and regulates this industry, projects that commercial space launch and re-entry operations will increase from 32 in 2019 to an estimated 40 to 56 in 2021.

The FAA forecast is the industry-wide standard of measuring U.S. aviation-related activities. The agency uses data, trends and other factors to develop the forecast, including generally accepted economic projections and information that airlines send to the DOT. The scope of the report looks at all facets of aerospace including commercial airlines, air cargo, general aviation, drones and commercial space transportation.

To learn more about the projected growth in aviation, an Aerospace Forecast fact sheet is also available.