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Air Travel Could Get Greener Even as Flights Double

Less than 20 percent of the world’s population has set foot on an airplane, but that’s changing dramatically. Here’s how aviation will evolve.

Though it may have lacked the drama that accompanied takeoff at Kitty Hawk a century ago, a recent flight in the skies above Shanghai still marked a historic moment in aviation. On May 5 a plane called the C919 circled the city for an hour, with just five crew members aboard. The 168-seat jet is the first large commercial aircraft manufactured in China—its challenge to popular models from giants Boeing and Airbus. That first public test flight heralded the rise of Asia, and China in particular, in a radically evolving aviation industry.

Asia is home to nine of the world’s ten most popular flights, and while air travel is booming around the world, it’s expected to soar exponentially in the region. That brings both unprecedented opportunities and challenges, and how airlines, aircraft manufacturers, and governments tackle them will change how the world flies.

The growth will generate countless new routes and require hundreds of new airports and thousands of new planes and pilots. Such a dramatic increase in flight would also be accompanied by a surge in greenhouse gases linked to climate change, so the industry is doubling down on efforts to improve fuel efficiency and curb emissions.

A RISING URBAN

MIDDLE CLASS

As people continue to migrate to

cities for economic opportunity, the

middle class will expand – and

begin to travel, particularly within

the developing bloc of Brazil,

Russia, India, and China (BRIC).

PROJECTED RISE OF THE MIDDLE

CLASS

People, in billions

3.5

+150%

1.4

ASIA-PACIFIC

REST OF THE WORLD

1.9

+19%

1.6

2015

2020

2025

2030

Asia-Pacific

region

URBAN POPULATION

Percentage of total

100

90

Brazil

80

Russia

70

China

WORLD

60

50

40

India

30

Cities in China and

India will grow

dramatically.

20

10

0

2015

2020

2025

2030

SOURCES: HOMI KHARAS, BROOKINGS

INSTITUTION; UNITED NATIONS

A RISING URBAN MIDDLE CLASS

As people continue to migrate to cities for economic opportunity, the middle

class will expand – and begin to travel, particularly within the developing bloc of

Brazil, Russia, India, and China (BRIC).

PROJECTED RISE OF THE MIDDLE CLASS

URBAN POPULATION

People, in billions

Percentage of total

100

90

Brazil

80

Russia

3.5

+150%

70

China

WORLD

60

50

1.4

40

India

ASIA-PACIFIC

30

Cities in China and

India will grow

dramatically.

20

REST OF THE WORLD

10

1.9

+19%

1.6

0

2015

2020

2025

2030

2015

2020

2025

2030

SOURCES: HOMI KHARAS, BROOKINGS INSTITUTION; UNITED NATIONS

A RISING URBAN MIDDLE CLASS

As people continue to migrate to cities for economic opportunity, the middle class will expand – and

begin to travel, particularly within the developing bloc of Brazil, Russia, India, and China (BRIC).

PROJECTED RISE OF THE MIDDLE CLASS

URBAN POPULATION

Percentage of total

People, in billions

100

90

Brazil

80

Russia

3.5

+150%

70

China

WORLD

60

50

1.4

40

India

ASIA-PACIFIC

30

Asia-Pacific region

Cities in China and India

will grow dramatically.

20

REST OF THE WORLD

10

1.9

+19%

1.6

0

2015

2020

2025

2030

2015

2020

2025

2030

SOURCES: HOMI KHARAS, BROOKINGS INSTITUTION; UNITED NATIONS

THE NEW TRAVELERS

The BRIC countries contain 40

percent of the world’s population

and account for around one-fifth of

the global GDP. Business and

leisure travel is growing faster there

than in developed economies.

Million passengers

CHINA

999

INTERNATIONAL

FLIGHTS

298

DOMESTIC

2006

'16

Cities

Airports

970

983

1,162

1,224

Projected increase in airports and cities

served by them.

241

INDIA

73

2006

'16

Cities

Airports

808

815

857

921

 

SOURCE: HOMI KHARAS, BROOKINGS

INSTITUTION; UNITED NATIONS

THE NEW TRAVELERS

The BRIC countries contain 40 percent of the world’s population and account

for around one-fifth of the global GDP. Business and leisure travel is growing

faster there than in developed economies.

999

million passengers

CHINA

INTERNATIONAL

FLIGHTS

Domestic travel is

skyrocketing in China and

rising sharply in India.

China added over 110

domestic routes between

2015 and 2016.

With economic

downturns, air travel

dipped in Brazil and

Russia, although Russia

still sees growth in

international routes.

298

INDIA

BRAZIL

RUSSIA

241

183

DOMESTIC

130

84

73

58

2006

'16

2006

'16

2006

'16

2006

'16

Cities

Airports

970

983

1,162

1,224

808

815

857

921

732

760

845

915

769

807

945

987

Projected increase in airports and cities served by them.

 

SOURCES: BETH REDPATH, AIRPORT STRATEGY & MARKETING; SABRE AIRLINE SOLUTIONS

THE NEW TRAVELERS

The BRIC countries contain 40 percent of the world’s population and account for around one-fifth

of the global GDP. Business and leisure travel is growing faster there than in developed economies.

999

million passengers

CHINA

INTERNATIONAL

FLIGHTS

Domestic travel is

skyrocketing in China and

rising sharply in India.

China added over 110

domestic routes between

2015 and 2016.

With economic downturns,

air travel dipped in Brazil

and Russia, although

Russia still sees growth in

international routes.

298

INDIA

BRAZIL

RUSSIA

241

183

DOMESTIC

130

84

73

58

2006

'16

2006

'16

2006

'16

2006

'16

Cities

Airports

970

983

1,162

1,224

808

815

857

921

732

760

845

915

769

807

945

987

Projected increase in airports and cities served by them.

 

SOURCES: BETH REDPATH, AIRPORT STRATEGY & MARKETING; SABRE AIRLINE SOLUTIONS

According to the International Air Transport Association (IATA), in 2016 there were a staggering 3.8 billion air travelers, a number it predicts will balloon to 7.2 billion passengers by 2035—a near doubling of current levels. Most of this boost in traffic will come from the Asia-Pacific region (which includes Asia, Australia, and New Zealand), with China set to overtake the U.S. as the largest aviation market in the world around 2024 and India set to displace the U.K. for third place around 2025.

In its own two-decade forecast, U.S. airplane manufacturer Boeing projects that worldwide demand for aircraft will top 39,000 planes in the next 20 years—of those, over 15,000 will be headed to Asian markets.

“China is now the first trillion-dollar aviation market in our forecast,” says Randy Tinseth, vice president of marketing at Boeing.

Three factors are putting more passengers in planes. “The first is the expansion of economies and the rise in incomes in Asia and Africa,” says IATA’s David Oxley.

While the proportion of middle-income households compared to the overall population in these nations is much smaller than those found in more mature economies, the absolute numbers are still enormous. The upsurge in middle-class households in major nations like China and India in particular is “pulling people into air travel,” says Oxley.

Cheaper airfares, thanks to both more efficient planes and competition, are also making flying more accessible. IATA forecasts that the average roundtrip airfare (before surcharges and taxes) in 2017 will be $351—63 percent lower than airfares in 1995, adjusting for inflation.

That’s partly attributable to the aggressive growth of low-cost airlines, especially in Asia, which is home to several of the world’s largest budget carriers, including AirAsia, Jetstar Asia, and Cebu Pacific.

Millennials are also behind the travel boom. “People of working ages tend to fly most often,” says Oxley. “Countries whose populations are young and expanding quickly are projected to have the fastest-growing aviation markets.”

Though travelers from China are likely to stick to Asian destinations for the coming decade, Oxley predicts surges in travel to North America and Europe as well.

Based on their sheer numbers and their purchasing power, travelers from China are wooed by city and country tourism offices as well as retail destinations like Harrod’s and Printemps. In 2016 there were 135 million outbound international Chinese travelers, and they spent $261 billion on tourism abroad, according to the United Nations World Tourism Organization, solidifying the nation’s ranking as the top travel market in the world in terms of spending, a title it's held since 2012.

While growth in mature markets like Europe and North America will be more incremental, with existing passengers flying more, China, India, and Indonesia will see more first-time fliers. Either way, that translates into demand for new planes, as established markets upgrade aging fleets and emerging markets grow their flight networks. Boeing has pushed production on its 737 line, which now completes 42 aircraft per month, but is expected to release 57 per month by 2019.

Developing Destinations

Oxley also pointed to the advent of next-generation, fuel-efficient long-haul jets like the Boeing 787 and the Airbus A350 that make lower volume routes such as Beijing to Madrid or Dallas to Seoul more viable, allowing airlines to offer more direct routes between more city pairs.

Geography has naturally defined the new routes that have emerged. Delta now looks to Asia in the form of a relatively new hub at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, more than tripling the flights and destinations to which it flies from there since 2012.

(Check out Seattle-Tacoma in our gallery of innovative airports.)

THE WORLD’S MOST

POPULAR FLIGHTS

In 2016 the 10 busiest routes took

off and landed in the Asia-Pacific

region. South Korea takes the top

slot for its frequent flights between

Seoul and Jeju Island, a popular

honeymoon destination.

One-way route capacity in

millions of passengers

0

2

4

6

8

Seoul - Jeju

Sapporo - Tokyo

Fukuoka - Tokyo

Melbourne - Sydney

Ho Chi Minh City - Hanoi

Delhi - Mumbai

Hong Kong - Taipei

Beijing - Shanghai

Surabaya - Jakarta

Okinawa - Tokyo

 

SOURCES: BETH REDPATH, AIRPORT STRATEGY

& MARKETING; SABRE AIRLINE SOLUTIONS

THE WORLD’S MOST POPULAR FLIGHTS

In 2016 the 10 busiest routes took off and landed in the Asia-Pacific region.

South Korea takes the top slot for its frequent flights between Seoul and Jeju

Island, a popular honeymoon destination.

Sapporo

ASIA

6.1

SOUTH

KOREA

JAPAN

Seoul

Beijing

5.5

Tokyo

7.9

4.0

CHINA

Fukuoka

Jeju

Island

Delhi

Shanghai

3.7

4.3

Okinawa

Taipei

Hong Kong

INDIA

PACIFIC

OCEAN

TAIWAN

Mumbai

4.1

Hanoi

4.3

VIETNAM

800 mi

Ho Chi Minh

City

800 km

INDIAN

OCEAN

3.8

INDONESIA

Jakarta

Surabaya

Arrow width corresponds to route

capacity in millions of passengers;

routes represent annual one-way

travel in 2016.

AUSTRALIA

Sydney

Melbourne

5.2

 

SOURCES: BETH REDPATH, AIRPORT STRATEGY & MARKETING; SABRE AIRLINE SOLUTIONS

THE WORLD’S MOST POPULAR FLIGHTS

In 2016 the 10 busiest routes took off and landed in the Asia-Pacific region. South Korea takes the top slot for

its frequent flights between Seoul and Jeju Island, a popular honeymoon destination.

Sapporo

ASIA

6.1

SOUTH

KOREA

JAPAN

Seoul

Beijing

Tokyo

5.5

7.9

4.0

CHINA

Fukuoka

Jeju

Island

Delhi

Shanghai

3.7

4.3

Okinawa

Taipei

4.1

Hong Kong

TAIWAN

INDIA

PACIFIC

OCEAN

Mumbai

Hanoi

4.3

VIETNAM

800 mi

Ho Chi Minh

City

800 km

INDIAN

OCEAN

3.8

INDONESIA

Jakarta

Arrow width corresponds to route

capacity in millions of passengers;

routes represent annual one-way

travel in 2016.

Surabaya

AUSTRALIA

Sydney

Melbourne

5.2

 

SOURCES: BETH REDPATH, AIRPORT STRATEGY & MARKETING; SABRE AIRLINE SOLUTIONS

THE NO-FRILLS

REVOLUTION

To make air travel more

accessible, airlines have

implemented a low-cost carrier

model. Using smaller, single-aisle

planes keeps prices low for

short-haul regional flights.

BUDGET Carriers Are Booming

Growth in percentage in the last decade

Asia-Pacific

24.5%

13.4

Europe

North America

2.2

SOURCES: BOEING; ROUTES ONLINE

THE NO-FRILLS REVOLUTION

To make air travel more accessible, airlines have implemented a low-cost

carrier model. Using smaller, single-aisle planes keeps prices low for

short-haul regional flights.

SEATS PER DEPARTURE

DESTINATIONS SERVED

ORIGIN

400

70

Tokyo

60

Taiwan

Seoul

300

50

Tokyo

40

Seoul

200

30

20

100

Taiwan

10

0

0

1995

2015

1995

2015

Use of smaller planes has resulted in fewer seats but more destinations.

Asia-Pacific

BUDGET Carriers

Are Booming

Europe

North America

Growth in percentage

in the last decade

24.5%

2.2

13.4

 

SOURCES: BOEING; ROUTES ONLINE

THE NO-FRILLS REVOLUTION

To make air travel more accessible, airlines have implemented a low-cost carrier model.

Using smaller, single-aisle planes keeps prices low for short-haul regional flights.

BUDGET Carriers Are Booming

SEATS PER DEPARTURE

DESTINATIONS SERVED

Growth in percentage in the last decade

ORIGIN

400

70

Tokyo

60

Taiwan

Seoul

300

50

Asia-Pacific

24.5%

Tokyo

40

Seoul

200

30

20

100

Taiwan

13.4

Europe

10

0

0

1995

2015

1995

2015

North America

2.2

Use of smaller planes has resulted in fewer seats but more destinations.

 

SOURCES: BOEING; ROUTES ONLINE

And though it’s not a major hub, another West Coast city, San Jose, California, also has non-stop flights to major centers in Asia, including Tokyo, Beijing, and Shanghai—all launched within the last few years.

“For China in particular,” says Mark Kiehl, service development director at Mineta San Jose International Airport, “we’re basically Silicon Valley’s airport. Apple, Google, and Facebook’s offices are all closer to us than to San Francisco.” And, as Kiehl points out, over 500 Silicon Valley companies have a presence in China, creating a distinct economic link.

“There is a very large Chinese ethnic population here,” he says. “While that certainly drives a lot of business travel, it also brings a lot of tourism and family travel as well, and you need all of those elements to make a flight route prosper.”

To establish those routes, destinations and even airports themselves lobby major airlines, sometimes for years, highlighting economic ties between a city and an airline’s hubs, in hopes of boosting both tourism and business.

Getting in on the tourist trade, Hainan Airlines launched service between Beijing and Las Vegas in December. Several Florida tourism boards, including those in Miami, Orlando, and Tampa, are reportedly courting Chinese airlines to begin flights to the three cities as China’s share of visitors to the state increases.

View Images

This island is the destination of the world’s most popular air route. About 200 flights a day depart Seoul’s Gimpo airport for Jeju, a vacation spot known as the Hawaii of South Korea. Though most visitors are Korean, Chinese tourists had been flocking to the island. That’s halted with recent tensions between the two countries—China banned package tours to South Korea in March.


Meanwhile, the world’s busiest airline route for the last several years running happens to be a short hop within South Korea, from Seoul Gimpo Airport to Jeju on Jejudo Island, a popular leisure destination. Total capacity on that route was around 15.2 million seats in 2016, IATA estimates.

With a rugged volcanic landscape, the island is sometimes referred to as the Hawaii of South Korea. Visitors can trek through ancient underground lava tubes with spectacular rock formations. Beaches and hiking trails come alive with wildflowers in the spring. Jeju is also home to Korea’s tallest mountain, Hallasan, which holds a crater lake. Although around 70 percent of the visitors are domestic, Chinese travelers now flock here as well, thanks to the island’s casinos. (Casinos are not allowed in mainland China.)

With a touch of celebrity, unexpected destinations can suddenly become fashionable. After Chinese actress Yao Chen wed in a church outside Queenstown, New Zealand, in 2012, it was a boon for the city. Tens of thousands of Chinese couples have since either married or honeymooned there. Just last year, over 50,000 Chinese made their way to the small town in a single week over the Chinese New Year in February.

Even Maine, where Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg and wife Priscilla Chan took a much publicized vacation last month, could get a bump in Chinese tourism as a result, predicted a tour operator who handles Chinese group tours in New England.

Airlines are also capitalizing on the burgeoning markets of Asia with strategic investments. Most recently, American Airlines announced a $200 million buy for a 2.68 percent stake in Guangzhou-based carrier China Southern. The airline is the largest by passenger numbers in China, and the move represents a major strategy shift to connect Chinese passengers with American’s far-reaching route network within the U.S.

In 2015 Delta Air Lines purchased a $450 million stake in China Eastern Airlines, which is based out of Shanghai, China’s business capital.

“Demand for customers traveling from China to the U.S. is stronger than it has ever been, and travel between the two countries is projected to grow more than twice the global average, becoming the largest international travel market from the U.S. in the next few years,” says Vinay Dube, Delta’s senior vice president of Asia-Pacific.

The partnership has expanded to include codeshare flights, on which Delta fliers can connect to around 40 domestic destinations within China.

GLOBAL AVIATION

TAKES OFF

By 2035 annual air travel is

predicted to double, with the Asia-

Pacific region driving the growth.

China is expected to surpass the

U.S. as the world’s largest aviation

market in less than 10 years.

TOP 10 PASSENGER MARKETS

Passengers, in millions

1,500

China

+166%

U.S.

+55%

1,000

500

0

2016

2036

500

India

+227%

400

U.K.

300

Indonesia

+134%

Japan

Spain

200

Germany

Thailand

France

Italy

(drops

to 11)

100

0

2016

2036

 

SOURCE: INTERNATIONAL AIR TRANSPORT

ASSOCIATION

GLOBAL AVIATION TAKES OFF

By 2035 annual air travel is predicted to double, with the Asia-Pacific region

driving the growth. China is expected to surpass the U.S. as the world’s largest

aviation market in less than 10 years.

TOP 10 PASSENGER MARKETS Passengers, in millions

500

1,500

China

India

+166%

+227%

400

U.S.

+55%

1,000

U.K.

300

Indonesia

+134%

Japan

Spain

200

Germany

Thailand

500

France

Italy

(drops to 11)

100

0

0

2016

2036

2016

2036

 

SOURCE: INTERNATIONAL AIR TRANSPORT ASSOCIATION

GLOBAL AVIATION TAKES OFF

By 2035 annual air travel is

predicted to double, with

the Asia-Pacific region

driving the growth. China is

expected to surpass the

U.S. as the world’s largest

aviation market in less than

10 years.

TOP 10 PASSENGER MARKETS Passengers, in millions

500

1,500

China

India

+166%

+227%

400

U.S.

+55%

1,000

U.K.

300

Indonesia

+134%

Japan

7.2

billion

passengers

projected

Spain

200

Germany

Thailand

500

France

Italy

(drops to 11)

3.8

100

0

0

2016

2036

2016

2035

2016

2036

 

SOURCE: INTERNATIONAL AIR TRANSPORT ASSOCIATION

PROJECTED REGIONAL

GROWTH

With more than a 100 million new

passengers entering its market

annually, the Asia-Pacific region is

seeing dramatic growth driven by

economic development and more

airports being built.

Annual passengers, in billions

Asia-Pacific

1.3

3.1

TODAY

2035

Europe

0.9

1.5

North America

0.8

1.3

Latin America

0.3

0.7

The Middle East

Although the Middle

East and Africa

have relatively small

markets now, strong

growth is expected

over the next 20

years.

0.2

0.4

Africa

0.1

0.3

 

SOURCE: INTERNATIONAL AIR TRANSPORT

ASSOCIATION

PROJECTED REGIONAL GROWTH

With more than a 100 million new passengers entering its market annually,

the Asia-Pacific region is seeing dramatic growth driven by economic

development and more airports being built.

TODAY

2035

Annual passengers, in billions

1.3

3.1

Asia-Pacific

0.9

1.5

Europe

0.8

1.3

North America

Average annual growth, in percent

0.3

0.7

Latin America

2.5

2.8

0.2

0.4

The Middle East

4.8

4.7

0.1

0.3

Africa

5.1

3.8

Although the Middle East and Africa have

relatively small markets now, strong growth is

expected over the next 20 years.

 

SOURCE: INTERNATIONAL AIR TRANSPORT ASSOCIATION

PROJECTED REGIONAL GROWTH

With more than a 100 million new passengers entering its market annually, the Asia-Pacific region is

seeing dramatic growth driven by economic development and more airports being built.

TODAY

2035

Annual passengers, in billions

1.3

3.1

Asia-Pacific

0.9

1.5

Europe

Average annual growth, in percent

0.8

1.3

North America

2.5

2.8

0.3

0.7

Latin America

4.8

4.7

0.2

0.4

The Middle East

Although the Middle East and Africa have

relatively small markets now, strong growth

is expected over the next 20 years.

0.1

0.3

5.1

3.8

Africa

SOURCE: INTERNATIONAL AIR TRANSPORT ASSOCIATION

Greening Aviation

With that imminent air traffic as well as travel trends both foreseen and not, airlines, aircraft manufacturers, airports, and governments—in short, the entire aviation industry—face new challenges.

The most pressing is how to prevent a doubling in air traffic from doubling the environmental impact of air travel in the coming decades. Discussions and proposals had been under way for years, when, last October, 68 countries whose air traffic comprises nearly 90 percent of international aviation signed on to the Carbon Offsetting Reduction Scheme for International Aviation (CORSIA).

Put forward by the International Civil Aviation Organization—part of the United Nations—CORSIA is a statement of intention to achieve carbon-neutral growth, starting as early as 2021, with 2020 levels as the baseline. In other words, in the years beyond 2020, emissions would remain capped at 2020 levels, with gradual changes that can vary from country to country in order to account for unique circumstances, including the needs of developing markets.

CORSIA will operate through the trading of emission “units,” a type of carbon commodity market. So while in theory aviation growth would be “carbon neutral,” that could be achieved through declines in CO2 emissions in other sectors rather than through those made directly in aviation.

Climate change aside, airlines and plane manufacturers have another reason to keep their emissions low: cost. More carbon emissions are the result of higher fuel consumption. Lower fuel consumption, and airlines will see higher profit margins.

“Fuel,” says Sean Newsum, Boeing’s director of environmental strategy, “constitutes somewhere from 30 to 40 percent of an airline’s typical operating costs.”

THE CHANGING FACE

OF CONSUMER SPENDING

Among the biggest middle-class

markets, consumption in China,

India, and Indonesia is growing

fastest. Disposable income is rising

in these countries as a result of

economic development and higher

per capita income.

TOP 10 COUNTRIES

Line width correlates to money spent by

the middle class

SPENDING in 2030, trillIon $

14.3

10.7

4.7

2.4

2.1

1.6

1.5

1.3

1.3

1.2

China

India

U.S.

Indonesia

Japan

Russia

Germany

Mexico

Brazil

U.K.

France

2015

2020

2030

 

SOURCES: HOMI KHARAS, BROOKINGS

INSTITUTION

THE CHANGING FACE OF CONSUMER SPENDING

Among the biggest middle-class markets, consumption in China, India, and

Indonesia is growing fastest. Disposable income is rising in these countries as a

result of economic development and higher per capita income.

Line width correlates to money spent by the middle class

TOP 10 COUNTRIES

SPENDING in 2015,

trillIon $

2030

U.S.

China

Japan

India

Russia

Germany

Brazil

U.K.

France

Italy

4.7

4.2

2.1

1.9

1.5

1.5

1.2

1.1

1.1

0.9

14.3

10.7

4.7

2.4

2.1

1.6

1.5

1.3

1.3

1.2

China

India

U.S.

Indonesia

Japan

Russia

Germany

Mexico

Brazil

U.K.

2015

2020

2030

The U.S. middle class

has been shrinking as

more enter higher

income brackets.

Spending in advanced

economies will be

surpassed by consumers

in developing markets.

 

SOURCES: HOMI KHARAS, BROOKINGS INSTITUTION

THE CHANGING FACE OF CONSUMER SPENDING

Among the biggest middle-class markets, consumption in China, India, and Indonesia is growing fastest.

Disposable income is rising in these countries as a result of economic development and higher per capita income.

Line width correlates to money spent by the middle class

TOP 10 COUNTRIES

SPENDING in 2015,

trillIon $

2030

U.S.

China

Japan

India

Russia

Germany

Brazil

U.K.

France

Italy

4.7

4.2

2.1

1.9

1.5

1.5

1.2

1.1

1.1

0.9

14.3

10.7

4.7

2.4

2.1

1.6

1.5

1.3

1.3

1.2

China

India

U.S.

Indonesia

Japan

Russia

Germany

Mexico

Brazil

U.K.

Spending in advanced

economies will be

surpassed by consumers

in developing markets.

The U.S. middle class

has been shrinking as

more enter higher

income brackets.

2015

2020

2030

 

SOURCES: HOMI KHARAS, BROOKINGS INSTITUTION

CHINA’S TOURISTS:

A POWERFUL ECONOMIC

FORCE

China is the largest international

tourism source as measured by

passport control and in spending.

More than half of the country’s

outbound journeys are for leisure.

SPENDING ON OUTBOUND TOURISM

China is the world’s

top spender, having

surpassed the U.S.

in 2012.

$ billion

250

200

150

CHINA

UNITED

STATES

100

50

0

2005

2010

2016

 

SOURCE: UNITED NATIONS WORLD TOURISM

ORGANIZATION

CHINA’S TOURISTS: A POWERFUL ECONOMIC FORCE

China is the largest international tourism source as measured by passport

control and in spending. More than half of the country’s outbound

journeys are for leisure.

SPENDING ON OUTBOUND TOURISM

250

$ billion

China is the world’s top spender,

having surpassed the U.S. in 2012.

200

150

CHINA

UNITED

STATES

100

50

0

1995

2000

2005

2010

2016

INTERNATIONAL TOURISTS

HAILS FROM CHINA,

WITH 135 MILLION

OUTBOUND JOURNEYS

While the first waves of

Chinese tourists were

middle-aged, millennial

travelers now dominate.

 

SOURCE: UNITED NATIONS WORLD TOURISM ORGANIZATION

CHINA’S TOURISTS: A POWERFUL ECONOMIC FORCE

China is the largest international tourism source as measured by passport control and in spending.

More than half of the country’s outbound journeys are for leisure.

SPENDING ON OUTBOUND TOURISM

250

INTERNATIONAL TOURISTS

HAILS FROM CHINA, WITH

135 MILLION OUTBOUND

JOURNEYS

$ billion

China is the world’s top spender,

having surpassed the U.S. in 2012.

200

150

CHINA

UNITED

STATES

100

50

While the first waves of Chinese

tourists were middle-aged,

millennial travelers now dominate.

0

1995

2000

2005

2010

2016

 

SOURCE: UNITED NATIONS WORLD TOURISM ORGANIZATION

The design of an aircraft itself can add up to significant fuel savings. Boeing tests new technologies on full-scale planes called ecoDemonstrators in order to deploy them on next-generation models.

Newsum described a study undertaken with NASA to streamline the airflow over a vertical stabilizer, the part on the back of the plane resembling a fin, that might eventually result in smaller tails that create less drag—and thus less fuel burned.

While fliers are not likely to see the results of that trial for years to come, one they might notice with the launch of Boeing’s 737MAX is a new type of winglet, another device that reduces drag and enhances aerodynamics. Existing 737s already have either upward winglets or those that sprout from both above and below the wing, called split scimitar winglets. The 737MAX features an advanced and larger type, which Newsum estimates could improve efficiency by up to two percent, representing potentially immense savings over the lifetime of a plane.

WANTED: AVIATION

STAFF AND AIRCRAFT

Over the next 20 years demand will

rise for crew to fly and maintain the

thousands of new planes that will

be added to fleets. China aims to

buy over 6,800 aircraft.

NEW PERSONNEL

Required by 2035

2,110,000

LOCATION

Pilots

617,000

Asia-Pacific

38.6%

Technicians

679,000

North America

18.5%

Europe

18.5%

Cabin Crew

814,000

Middle East

10.2%

Other

14.2%

(Latin America,

Russia, And

Africa)

GLOBAL COMMERCIAL FLEET

PROJECTIONS

45,240

22,730

22,510

MORE AIRCRAFT

2015

2035

The Asia-Pacific

region will need

four out of every

10 planes.

 

SOURCE: BOEING

WANTED: AVIATION STAFF AND AIRCRAFT

Over the next 20 years demand will rise for crew to fly and maintain the

thousands of new planes that will be added to fleets. China aims to buy

over 6,800 aircraft.

NEW PERSONNEL

Required by 2035

2,110,000

PILOTS

617,000

ASIA-PACIFIC

38.6%

TECHNICIANS

679,000

NORTH AMERICA

18.5%

EUROPE

18.5%

CABIN CREW

814,000

MIDDLE EAST

10.2%

OTHER

14.2%

(LATIN AMERICA,

RUSSIA, AND

AFRICA)

GLOBAL COMMERCIAL FLEET PROJECTIONS

45,240

The Asia-Pacific

region will need

four out of every

10 planes.

22,510

MORE AIRCRAFT

2015

2035

 

SOURCE: BOEING

WANTED: AVIATION STAFF AND AIRCRAFT

Over the next 20 years demand will rise for crew to fly and maintain the thousands of new planes that will

be added to fleets. China aims to buy over 6,800 aircraft.

NEW PERSONNEL Required by 2035

2,110,000

PILOTS

617,000

TECHNICIANS

679,000

CABIN CREW

814,000

NORTH AMERICA

18.5%

EUROPE

18.5%

MIDDLE EAST

10.2%

ASIA-PACIFIC

38.6%

OTHER

14.2%

(LATIN AMERICA,

RUSSIA, AND AFRICA)

GLOBAL COMMERCIAL FLEET PROJECTIONS

45,240

The Asia-Pacific region will need

four out of every 10 planes.

22,510

MORE AIRCRAFT

2015

2035

SOURCE: BOEING

Technological leaps in data and communications also promise to make air and ground operations more efficient. The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration is rolling out the next-generation air-traffic management system. So-called NextGen will replace the country’s outdated radar-based system, which still uses radio communications, with a satellite-based system that taps GPS technology instead.

A satellite-based system allows for faster and more detailed communications between air-traffic control and pilots over much greater distances and more varied terrain, cutting down on the time it takes to make decisions in the air. The system’s accuracy also translates into more direct routing between departure and arrival, and fewer altitude and speed adjustments during ascent and descent in the skies above busy airports. That equates to huge time savings in the air and fuel burn on every flight. Under NextGen’s superior precision, the process known as aircraft spacing is also more effective, alleviating some airspace congestion and increasing traffic capacity at airports.

Components of the system are already in use at 55 U.S. airports, with further elements of the program to come online in the next few years.

Airlines, governments, and companies like Boeing have also made advances in developing new sources of biofuel and mainstreaming their use in the industry.

“Biofuels represent huge potential reductions of between 50 to 80 percent of the lifetime carbon emission of both existing and future aircraft,” says Newsum. The company is involved in several projects around the world in an effort to make biofuels more viable.

View Images

China exports big spenders: Chinese tourists spend more than travelers from any other country, passing the U.S. in 2012. For this purchasing power, they’re courted by tourism offices and retailers like Harrod’s department store in London, where Chinese shoppers have been the top buyers by nationality.


One began in 2013, when Boeing partnered with South African Airways and low-cost carrier Mango as well as industrial research and development company Sunchem. Sunchem developed a nicotine-free “energy tobacco” strain called Solaris, and grew it in South Africa’s Limpopo province. Oil harvested from the plants was refined into biofuel, then blended with conventional fuel and used to power several passenger flights on the two airlines’ 737-800s between Johannesburg and Cape Town in July 2016, demonstrating its potential.

“We’re on the cusp of having large volume of sustainable aviation biofuel for use at competitive prices in the relative near-term,” says Newsum. He pointed to a current estimate that worldwide biofuel production capacity has hit about one billion gallons. If approved for use in commercial aviation, it would account for over one percent of the industry’s fuel consumption, both in the air and in ground operations.

One percent might not sound significant, but the future of aviation is a path of incremental changes that could eventually add up to evolutionary strides. “We’re going to continue working with governments, fuel producers, airlines—any interested stakeholder,” says Newsum, “to help bring the real, full-scale, widespread use of biofuels to the aviation industry.”

Follow travel and aviation reporter Eric Rosen on Twitter.

This article is part of our Urban Expeditions series, an initiative made possible by a grant from United Technologies to the National Geographic Society.