Business Treaveler logo

Travel news, reviews and intel for high-flyers

Top-20 Countries for Air Travel Demand: China to Overtake the U.S. by 2042

Global air traffic is forecasted to approximately double by 2042 to over 19 billion passengers

by Fergus Cole

February 21, 2024

Photo: Shanghai, China. Courtesy of Li Yang / Unsplash

The latest annual World Airport Traffic Forecasts (WATF) released by Airports Council International (ACI) World indicates that the United States is currently the leading country in the demand for air travel. However, the report predicts China will take over this position in the coming decades.

ACI World analyzed data from 141 countries and territories across the globe to predict the changing trends in air passenger volumes over the next thirty years until 2052. The annual report included data from 29 additional countries compared to last year, while it also extended its forecast by an extra ten years.

Photo: Courtesy of Denver International Airport.

The WATF 2023-2052 report forecasts that by the end of 2024, global passenger traffic will reach 9.7 billion, surpassing pre-pandemic levels for the first time. Approximately 4 billion will be international passenger traffic, while domestic passenger numbers will account for the other 5.7 billion.

Air passenger traffic is expected to grow globally at a compound annual rate of 4.3% until 2042 and 3.6% until 2052. This means that the total number of passengers worldwide will double from 2024 until 2042 and increase to around 2.5 times higher in 2052 than it is currently.

China overtaking the U.S.

However, the growth rate is expected to be higher in developing countries than advanced economies. China is projected to overtake the U.S. as the country with the highest number of air traffic passengers in the near future.

Other countries expected to see significant growth include Indonesia, which ranked thirteenth globally in passenger numbers last year but is predicted to surge into fourth place by 2042 and beyond.

Developing economies like Thailand, Vietnam, and the Philippines are also expected to see significant growth in air travel demand over the next three decades.

Photo: Airport queue in Guangzhou, China. Courtesy of Hiurich Granja / Unsplash

“The projections indicate that global passenger traffic is set to reach 9.7 billion by the end of 2024, surpassing pre-pandemic levels, and suggest a doubling by 2042 and a 2.5-fold increase by 2052,” said Luis Felipe de Oliveira, Director General of ACI World.

“In the long-term, the global passenger market dynamic is expected to transition from advanced economies towards emerging and developing ones as they experience significant urbanization and population increases, often combined with rapid economic growth favorably impacting their disposable income and willingness to travel.”

“Investing responsibly in current and new infrastructure remains key to ensuring that we can sustainably meet capacity growth to maximize the social and economic benefits of aviation.”

The Top-20 List

Here is what ACI World forecasts to be the world’s top 20 markets by total passenger traffic in the long term:

1United StatesChinaChina
2ChinaUnited StatesUnited States
5United KingdomSpainSpain
8BrazilUnited KingdomUnited Kingdom
9ItalyRussian FederationThailand
12FranceMexicoRussian Federation
14Russian FederationItalyPhilippines
18United Arab EmiratesAustraliaGermany
20VietnamUnited Arab EmiratesUnited Arab Emirates