GoFigure! Analysis: Up, Up, and Away

The past two decades have seen dramatic change in the air transportation industry. More people are flying, and they’re getting from point A to point B faster than ever before (1). Airplanes are not only faster, they’re also bigger and more fuel efficient, making passenger airlines cheaper and more accessible to the masses (1,2,3). Furthermore, the shift from the Boeing 777 to Boeing 747s, 787s, Dreamliners, and Airbus A380s has improved flight safety and flying experiences.

As airplanes have advanced, so too have the safety standards that they’re required to meet. Whether it’s something as seemingly simple as better cabin air circulation or as complex as advanced autopilot systems, safety standards have ascended for years and are making flights all over the world safer. The number of fatal plane crashes has gone down in recent years. As the industry continues to evolve, passengers expect air travel to become as safe possible.

Passengers don’t just expect safety, they also expect entertainment. Another vast improvement to air travel has come in the form of in-flight entertainment. Twenty years ago, in-flight entertainment consisted of a couple music channels and the cockpit voice feed. Today, options include television channels and movies, as well as music and games, available through personal entertainment consoles and powered by satellite technology

In an effort to measure the global impact of advanced air transportation technology, this study looked at air traffic around the world since 2010. Through an exploration of the data, we aim to answer the following questions:

  1. What was the impact of advanced technology on passenger traffic vs. freight traffic in the last decade
  2. Which regions and countries experienced the highest increase in passenger traffic and freight traffic?
  3. How have increases in passenger and freight traffic impacted GDP per capita on a country level?
  4. Which type of traffic has a larger impact on GDP per capita: passenger traffic or freight traffic?

Methodology

In order to answer these questions, we analyzed data from the World Bank Database (4).

The data included the following variables over time:

  1. GDP per capita by country/region, 2010-2017 (measured in USD as a constant)
  2. Air freight traffic in “millions of tons per km” by country/region, 2010-2017 (absolute value)
  3. Airline passengers by country/region, 2010-2017 (absolute value)
  4. Population (adults 15+) by country
  5. Regions: North America, Latin America, Europe & Central Asia, Middle East & North Africa, South Asia, East Asia, and Sub-Saharan Africa

We computed the following variables:

  1. Air freight relative to population size by country, 2010-2017 (relative value)
  2. Freight in “millions of tons per km” divided by the adult population size (15+) and multiplied by 1 million
  3. Airline passengers relative to the population size by country (relative value)
  4. Airline passengers in a given country divided by population size (15+), 2010-2017

View our interactive dashboard

for full visualization of the research data

Main Findings

Between 2010-2017, both passenger traffic and freight traffic increased significantly around the world. Freight traffic grew by 17%—from 182,026 million tons / km in 2010, to 213,590 million tons/ km in 2017. Passenger traffic increased by 51%—from 2,628 million passengers in 2010 to 3,979 million in 2017. During the same period, GDP around the world increased by 12%—from $9,514  per capita in 2010 to $10,634 per capita in 2017.

From 2010-2017, passenger traffic increased by 51%, much more than freight traffic (17%) and GDP per capita (12%).

Graph 1: Air Freight, Air Passengers and GDP per capita
Graph 1: Air Freight, Air Passengers and GDP per capita
Table 1: Air Freight, Air Passengers, and GDP per capita by Region; 2010 vs. 2017
Table 1: Air Freight, Air Passengers, and GDP per capita by Region; 2010 vs. 2017

Growth in Passenger and Freight Traffic, 2010-2017

On a regional level in 2017, the number of air passengers was the highest in East Asia & Pacific (1,274 million in 2017 vs. 726 million in 2010, an increase of 75%). Next up, Europe & Central Asia (1,021 million in 2017 vs. 672 million in 2010, an increase of 52%) and North America (941 million  in 2017 vs. 784 million in 2010, an increase of 20%). In South Asia, there was relatively low passenger traffic but a large percent increase (163 million passengers in 2017 vs. 79 million

passengers in 2010, an increase of 106%). Trailing that is the Middle East & North Africa (251 million in 2017 vs. 151 million in 2010, an increase of 66%), Latin America (277 million in 2017 vs. 178 million in 2010, an increase of 56%), and Sub-Saharan Africa (51 million in 2017 vs. 38 million in 2010, an increase of 34%). (Table 1, Graph 2)

Graph 2: Air Passengers in 2017 (Millions) and % Increase in Passenger Traffic by Region, 2010-2017
Graph 2: Air Passengers in 2017 (Millions) and % Increase in Passenger Traffic by Region, 2010-2017

In addition, between 2010-2017, air freight was highest in East Asia & Pacific (74,001 million tons / km in 2017 vs. 73,280 million tons / km in 2010, an increase of 1%). Following that, we see Europe     & Central Asia (51,061 million tons / km in 2017 vs. 40,845 million tons / km in 2010, an increase of 25%) and North America (44,433 million tons / km in 2017 vs. 41,311 million tons / km in 2010, an increase of 8%). Relatively low freight numbers with a large percent increase were found in the

Middle East & North Africa (31,332 million tons / km in 2017 vs. 16,737 million tons / km in 2010,  an increase of 87%), in Latin America a 5,981 million tons / km in 2017 vs. 5,133 million tons / km   in 2010, an increase of 17%), South Asia (3,157 million tons / km in 2017 vs. 2,582 million tons / km in 2010, an increase of 22%), and Sub-Saharan Africa (3,625 million tons / km in 2017 vs. 2,138 million tons / km in 2010, an increase of 70%). (Table 1, Graph 3)

Graph 3: Air Freight in 2017 (Million Tons / KM) and % Increase in Air Freight by Region, 2010-2017
Graph 3: Air Freight in 2017 (Million Tons / KM) and % Increase in Air Freight by Region, 2010-2017

Top 20 Countries in Passenger and Freight Traffic (Absolute Value)

On a country level (absolute value), the United States is the leader in passengers and freight in both 2010 and 2017, with 849 million passengers and 41,592 million tons / km in 2017. China comes in second with 551 million passengers and 23,324 million tons / km in 2017. In positions 3-5 for passenger traffic, we find Ireland, United Kingdom, and India. In positions 3-5 for freight traffic, are the United Arab Emirates, Hong Kong SAR - China, and Korea, Rep. (Tables 2-3). Other countries in the top 20 for a total number of passengers were Ireland, Indonesia, Brazil, Spain, Mexico, and Malaysia. Some of the top 20 countries for freight were Hong Kong SAR - China, Qatar, Luxembourg, Singapore, Netherlands, and Ethiopia.

Graph 3: Air Freight in 2017 (Million Tons / KM) and % Increase in Air Freight by Region, 2010-2017
Graph 3: Air Freight in 2017 (Million Tons / KM) and % Increase in Air Freight by Region, 2010-2017
Table 3: Change in Freight Traffic Rank, 2010-2017 (Absolute Value)
Table 3: Change in Freight Traffic Rank, 2010-2017 (Absolute Value)
Table 4: Comparing Top 20 Countries in Passenger vs. Freight Traffic (General Indicator)
Table 4: Comparing Top 20 Countries in Passenger vs. Freight Traffic (General Indicator)

Top 20 Countries in Passenger and Freight Traffic (Relative to Population Size)

Relative to population size, Ireland ranks first for number of passengers (40.7 passengers for every  1 adult in Ireland). Following that is Iceland (26.6 passengers), Qatar (13.2 passengers), United Arab Emirates (11.8 passengers), and Seychelles (7.90 passengers). Relative to population size, the top five leaders for freight traffic were Luxembourg (14,616 million tons / km1) Qatar, (4,826 million tons / km), United Arab Emirates (2,041 million tons / km), Hong Kong SAR – China (1,898 million tons / km), and Singapore (1,469 million tons / km).

Table 5: Change in Passenger Traffic Rank, 2010-2017 (Relative to Population Size)
Table 5: Change in Passenger Traffic Rank, 2010-2017 (Relative to Population Size)
Table 6: Change in Freight Traffic Rank, 2010-2017 (Relative to Population Size)
Table 6: Change in Freight Traffic Rank, 2010-2017 (Relative to Population Size)

Countries which lead in passenger traffic relative to population size include Ireland, Antigua and Barbuda, Macao SAR - China, Belize, Panama, Maldives, New Zealand, Malta, and Australia.

On the other hand, countries which lead in freight traffic relative to population size include Netherlands, New Zealand, Korea, Mauritius, Belgium, Fiji, United States, Israel, and Oman.

Table 7: Comparing Top 20 Countries in Passenger vs. Freight Traffic (Relative to Population Size)
Table 7: Comparing Top 20 Countries in Passenger vs. Freight Traffic (Relative to Population Size)

GDP Growth

On a regional level in 2017, the highest GDP per capita was found in North America ($52,951 in 2017 vs. $48,291 in 2010, an increase of 10%) and Europe & Central Asia ($25,683 in 2017 vs.

$23,531 in 2010, an increase of 9%). Relatively low GDP per capita coupled with a high percentage increase was found in South Asia ($1,779 in 2017 vs. $1,252 in 2010, an increase of 42%) and East Asia & Pacific ($9,915 in 2017 vs. $7,677 in 2010, an increase of 29%). Following that is the Middle East & North Africa ($7,740 in 2017 vs. $7,127 in 2010, an increase of 9%), Sub-Saharan Africa ($1,648 in 2017 vs. $1,555 in 2010, an increase of 6%), and Latin America ($9,356 in 2017 vs. $8,954 in 2010, an increase of 4%).

Graph 4: The Distribution of GDP per capita (2017) and Increase in GDP per capita (2010-2017) by Region (USD)
Graph 4: The Distribution of GDP per capita (2017) and Increase in GDP per capita (2010-2017) by Region (USD)

The Link Between Passenger vs. Freight Traffic and GDP per capita

When we analyzed the relationship between passenger traffic, freight traffic, and GDP per capita, we found a high and significant correlation between freight traffic relative to population size (freight per adult) and GDP per capita (2017) in each country (r = .527). We also found a high and significant correlation between passenger traffic relative to population size (passengers per adult) and GDP per capita (2017) in each country (r = .539). Finally, we found low but positive correlation (r = .175) between freight per adult and passengers per adult in each country (2017).

Table 8: The Correlation Between Passengers, Freight, and GDP per capita (2017)
Table 8: The Correlation Between Passengers, Freight, and GDP per capita (2017)

** Correlation is significant at the 0.01 level (2-tailed).

*   Correlation is significant at the 0.05 level (2-tailed).

In addition, when we tested the GDP per capita growth as a function of passengers, freight, population, and Advanced Countries, we found that the higher the passenger traffic (relative to population size) (beta= 0.386), and the higher the freight traffic (relative to population size) (beta=0.385), the higher the GDP per capita in each country. Passenger traffic and freight traffic are equally related to GDP per capita differences on a country level.

Table 9: GDP per capita as a Function of Passengers, Freight, Population, and Advanced Countries, 2017 (Regression Equation)
Table 9: GDP per capita as a Function of Passengers, Freight, Population, and Advanced Countries, 2017 (Regression Equation)
Graph 5: The Link Between Passengers, Freight, and GDP per capita (2017)
Graph 5: The Link Between Passengers, Freight, and GDP per capita (2017)

Summary

In this analysis, we studied global growth in air traffic, both passenger and freight, between the years of 2010-2017, in relation to growth in GDP per capita. In relative value, air passenger traffic has increased by 51%, far exceeding the increase in air freight traffic (17%) and the increase in GDP per capita (12%) during the years between 2010-2017.

In addition, we also found that passenger traffic as well as freight traffic are equally related to GDP per capita differences on country level.

When we tested the GDP per capita growth as a function of passenger, freight, and population, we found that the higher the passenger traffic (relative to the population size) (beta= 0.386) and the higher the freight traffic (relative to the  population size) (beta= 0.385), the higher the GDP per capita in each country.

On a country level (absolute value), the United States is the leader in passengers and freight in both 2010 and 2017, with 849 million passengers and 41,592 million tons / km in 2017. China comes in second with 551 million passengers and 23,324 million tons / km in 2017. In positions 3-5 for passenger traffic, are Ireland, United Kingdom, and India. Positions 3-5 for freight traffic are held by United Arab Emirates, Hong Kong SAR - China, and Korea, Rep.

Countries which lead in passenger traffic relative to population size include Ireland, Antigua and Barbuda, Macao SAR - China, Belize, Panama, Maldives, New Zealand, Malta, and Australia. On the other hand, countries which lead in freight traffic relative to population size include Netherlands, New Zealand, Korea, Mauritius, Belgium, Fiji, United States, Israel, and Oman.

View our interactive dashboard

for full visualization of the research data