Air Transport Keeps Expanding

Michael Renner | Dec 17, 2013

In 2012 the number of people traveling on airplanes reached 2,957 million, which was 4.7 percent more than the previous year.1 (See Figure 1.) Although this figure includes a substantial number of people who travel multiple times during the year, it is equivalent to 42 percent of the world’s population.2 The number of passengers is up 95-fold from 31 million in 1950, when flying was a luxury few could afford, and it is triple the 960 million passengers in 1986, when air travel was already quite common.3

The average length of a flight doubled from 903 kilometers in 1950 to 1,816 kilometers in 2000, but it has not changed much since then and stood at 1,827 kilometers in 2012.4 Longer flights and expanding passenger numbers generated a strong expansion of total passenger kilometers (pkm) traveled— up 193-fold from the 28 billion pkm in 1950 to 5.4 trillion pkm in 2012.5 (See Figure 2.) The only pauses in an otherwise inexorable expansion came in 2001–02 (following the September 11 attacks in the United States) and in 2008–09 (after the start of the world financial and economic crisis).6

Like passenger air travel, air freight transport has expanded strongly. In 2012, some 49.2 million tons of goods were transported by plane worldwide.7 Even though this is down 1 percent from 2011, it is 71 percent more than in 2001.8

Aviation Figure 1

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