According to ACI's latest World Airport Traffic Report, passenger numbers are estimated to have reached 8.8 billion in 2018, an increase of +6.4% compared to the previous year.
In addition, the world’s airports accommodated 122.7 million metric tonnes of cargo and almost 100 million aircraft movements.
While growth moderated slightly compared to 2017, ACI says that passenger traffic remained resilient in the face of the global uncertainties affecting many major economies.
The 2018 increase is still above the +5.8% compounded average annual growth rate for passenger traffic from 2010 through 2018.
While advanced economies held the largest proportion (52.8%) of global passenger traffic, airport traffic in emerging markets and developing economies grew faster (+8.3%) than in advanced economies (+4.8%) in 2018.
During 2018, the highest number of passengers travelled through airports in the Asia-Pacific region:
1. Asia-Pacific – 3.3 billion (+8.1%)
2. Europe – 2.4 billion (+6.4%)
3. North America – (2 billion (+5.0%)
4. Latin America-Caribbean – 651 million (+5.0%)
5. Middle East – 396 million (+0.7%)
6. Africa – 214 million (+9.4%).
In ACI’s view, protectionist policies, slowing global economy and geopolitical tensions represent the most pressing downside risks over the near-term for continued growth.
In addition, physical capacity considerations and potential bottlenecks in air transport infrastructure continue to pose challenges in accommodating future demand.
“Protectionist rhetoric - fuelled by isolationist policies - has swept several major economies in recent times and this has translated into a dismantling of established open trade relationships and regimes,” notes ACI World director general, Angela Gittens.
“Because aviation has strong links to the global economy and to local development through commerce and tourism, these new barriers may restrain the efficient flow of people, goods and services; air transport very much relies on open markets to grow.
“Despite this, passenger traffic has remained resilient, posting annual growth rates above historical averages with the cost of travel decreasing in many markets and middle-class populations burgeoning in emerging markets."
Even with these short-term challenges, however, ACI World’s global medium-term forecast show almost 30% growth in passenger numbers from 2018 to 2023.
Over the longer term, passenger traffic worldwide is expected to double in 17 years and projected to grow at an annualized rate of +4.1%, reaching 20.9 billion by 2040.
“From these forecasts, we can see that the airport industry is engaged in a balancing act as it seeks to meet surging air transport demand which, in many cases, is outstripping available airport infrastructure,” says Gittens said.
Of the top 20 markets, the United Kingdom has the largest number of international passengers – almost 250 million passengers – while the United States has the largest domestic market (nearly 1.6 billion passengers, 32.9% of the world’s domestic passenger throughput).
Africa (+9.4%), Asia-Pacific (+8.1%) and Europe (+6.4%) posted strong growth in passenger traffic.