Air Travel Trends Mixed as Carbon Footprint Grows

Nausheen Khan and Kelsey Russell | Sep 16, 2010

In 2008, the latest year with available data, the traveling public flew 4.28 trillion passenger-kilometers on airplanes, a 1.3 percent increase from 2007.1 (See Figure 1.) The distance that passengers travel has increased every year except 1991 and 2001 since statistics were first recorded by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) in the 1940s.2 In the past two decades, the number of passenger-kilometers traveled more than doubled—from 1.7 trillion in 1988 to 4.3 trillion in 2008.3

Passenger-kilometers are calculated by multiplying the distance of a trip by the number of passengers traveling.4 ICAO uses passenger-kilometers to monitor air traffic because it captures both the number of travelers and the distance traveled, which is a clearer indicator of travel trends than passenger numbers alone.

In 2008, due to the global recession, the air transport industry experienced the slowest rate of growth since 2002, measured in terms of passenger-kilometers.5 This lagging growth rate likely continued in 2009, with a 2 percent decline.6 However, ICAO predicts that as the global economy revives, air travel in 2010 will continue the growth trend seen prior to the recession, with an expected growth rate of 6.4 percent over 2009.7

The Worldwatch Institute is an independent research organization known around the world for its accessible, fact-based analysis of critical global issues. Learn More