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Global Demand For Flights Set To Double In The Next 20 Years

Already on track for a record summer, the airline industry will keep growing fast in the coming decades, according to a new report.

Posted on June 8, 2015, at 6:11 p.m. ET

Trevor Collens / Getty Images

If the airport seemed crowded last time you traveled, get used to it: global demand for flights is expected to double over the next two decades, according to a new study.

The report, released Monday by hospitality and leisure team at consultancy PwC, said global revenue for the airline industry reached $751 billion in 2014, up nearly 5% from the year prior, and shows no signs of slowing in the years to come. The rising demand will lead to a similar surge in spending on planes, infrastructure and crew, the report said.

And while the U.S. airline industry is on track to have its busiest summer ever on the heels of posting record profits in the first quarter, global airlines are experiencing just as strong, if not stronger, demand.

Scheduled miles per passenger are expected to jump 7% in 2015, the largest one-year change since 2010, with demand predicted to continue to increase all the way out to 2035.

The industry's growth is being driven by "megatrends including shifts in global economic power and demographics and the accelerating urbanization in emerging economies," said Jonathan Kletzel, PwC's U.S. Transportation and Logistics practice leader in a statement.

Surging demand for flights will come with its own challenges, the report said: building new airports and expanding old ones, producing enough new planes to carry all those extra passengers, and training up skilled workers, especially maintenance technicians and pilots.

Airlines are aware of the challenge ahead: 88% of CEOs surveyed said they plan to change their talent management strategies to address the looming labor shortage in the industry, which Boeing estimates will require 533,000 new pilots and 584,000 maintenance technicians. Airlines are already waging a "war on talent," it said, planning to hire 2.7 million new aviation employees around the world by 2025 to meet the expected increase in demand.

All that growth is coming as the industry seems to have figured out how to turn profitable: the International Air Transport Association has forecast industry-wide net profits for 2015 to grow to $25 billion, or 25% over last year, due to low fuel costs and high demand.

Profitability, has come, in part, from figuring out how to squeeze more money from affluent fliers. In recent years, airlines have been investing in long-haul business class upgrades and "ancillary services" like inflight Wi-fi, revenues from which are expected to reach nearly $50 billion in the last year, or nearly 7% of the airlines' total overall revenue.

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