If you read between the lines of the many numbers in the annual FAA aviation forecast, you can discern the sort of message often found in fortune cookies -- something like, "A brief respite may be coming."
According to the FAA, domestic passenger enplanements (for mainline and regional carriers) topped the 690 million mark in 2007 but have since fallen and are expected to total about 634 million this year. Enplanements are on the rise again, but they are not projected to top the 2007 total until 2013 or 2014.
In other words, compared with the peak years of 2000 or 2007, the FAA anticipates there will be fewer people flying during the next few years.
It also expects to be handling fewer aircraft movements. FAA towers handled more than 15 million air carrier operations in 2000, a number that slipped to 13 million last year, and that isn't expected to rise above 15 million again until 2019.
This suggests that as air traffic and aircraft movements rebuild from the recession, the industry might have a little breather in the congestion department.
We had such a breather when traffic slumped in 2002 and 2003, but we can't remember what the government did in those years to plan for a resumption of congestion-as-usual. Maybe that's because it did next to nothing.
One of the purposes of the FAA forecast is to project demand trends so that government and industry parties can make appropriate investments in airport, air traffic control and other infrastructure at the appropriate times, which is another way of saying that the time to fix the roof is when the sun is shining.
FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt understands this. At the recent FAA Forecast Conference, he said, "It's just flat-out wrong to contend that sluggish economic growth, high unemployment or even higher oil prices in the near term are an occasion to ease up on our plans for modernization."
Here's hoping Congress was listening.