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Passengers returning to the sky;
U.S. laying plans to prevent potential gridlock

From the U.S. Department of Transportation
WASHINGTON, DC – With a strong national economy spurring growth in air travel for the second consecutive year, U.S. Transportation Secretary Norman Y. Mineta said the federal government is better prepared than ever to address potential aviation gridlock with passenger levels returning to pre-9/11/01 levels by 2005 and exceeding one billion by 2015.

In a speech at the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) 29th Annual Aviation Forecast Conference, Mineta also said that a new era of government-industry cooperation is helping to prevent the chronic flight delays experienced during the summer of 2001 and earlier.

"Aviation is on the cusp of a paradigm shift," Mineta said. "Because a strong economy depends on a vibrant aviation system, the future of our system depends on new solutions that keep America as the worldwide leader in aviation."

The secretary also announced the preliminary release of an FAA capacity study that highlights the need for continued aviation infrastructure investments to keep pace with the growing passenger demand, saying the number of passengers is expected to exceed more than one billion by 2015.

According to the FAA's annual aerospace forecast released this week, the number of people flying in the United States will reach pre-Sept. 11, 2001 levels by 2005, with an average growth rate of 6.8 percent over the next two years.

Mineta noted, however, that the new passengers are not the business travelers on whom many airlines have depended for revenue, but rather more cost-conscious passengers who shop for fares on the Internet and fueled the expansion of low-fare carriers.

Speaking at the conference, FAA Administrator Marion C. Blakey focused on meeting growing air-travel demands with an aggressive strategic plan to increase safety, expand capacity, promote US international leadership, and advance the FAA's organizational excellence.

"The economy is taking off, and so are more of America's planes," said Blakey. "In commercial aviation, we know that means more passengers and more cargo – more business and more tourism. In other words, the engine of aviation is continually being rebuilt by a stronger economy.

At the same time, we're seeing signs that US aviation is starting to give back to that economy."

The FAA bases its forecast of sustained aviation growth on the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) economic projections. According to OMB, the nation's Gross Domestic Product is projected to increase from $9.63 trillion in 2003 to $14.26 trillion in 2015, with a low inflation rate of 2.2 percent annually during this period.

Internationally, air travel to and from the United States is also expected to increase. US large carrier international enplanements are forecast to grow an average of 5.2 percent a year, increasing from 50.5 million in 2003 to 93.0 million in 2015. Total US large air-carrier international enplanements are projected to return to pre-Sept. 11, 2001 levels in 2004. Over the 12-year forecast, the largest increases in international enplanements are slated to occur on Pacific routes, increasing 5.6 percent annually.

The FAA's new capacity study compares demand and projected capacity at more than 300 commercial airports and nearly 300 metropolitan areas through 2013 and 2020. The study shows that five airports – Atlanta, Newark, LaGuardia, Chicago O'Hare and Philadelphia - need additional capacity today. Even with planned infrastructure improvements, a total of 16 airports and seven major metropolitan areas will need additional capacity in 2013, unless further steps are taken to meet the demand. Final results of the study will be released in the next few months.

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