Data from airlines, civil aviation authorities and aircraft manufacturers indicate that air traffic in Latin America will continue to grow at rates above the world average for the next 20 years.
Figures recently released by the International Air Transport Association (IATA) show airport traffic in the region will grow 4.7% anually through 2034, above the estimated world average (4.1%). That means that in 20 years there will be 605 million air passengers annually in Latin America, 363 million more than at present.
According to the same statistics, Colombia, Brazil and Mexico will be among the 10 fastest growing markets in the period analyzed, while Brazil will become the fifth largest market in the world, with 272 million passengers a year in 2034.
In 2013, the airlines operating in Colombia transported 29 million people, an increase of 19% compared to 2012, according to the Air Transport Association of Colombia (ATAC). While in Chile the government predicts that by 2030 the average number of plane journeys made will increase from the current one per person per year - already the highest in the region - to 2.34, approaching the current level in the United States. Chilean air passenger numbers, meanwhile, are forecast to rise from the current 17 million to 70 million by 2050.
The downside of these figures, which at first glance appear positive as they reflect years of economic growth and improvements in the living standards of many Latin Americans, is that they are not being accompanied by similar improvements in airport infrastructure. According to calculations by the Latin American and Caribbean Air Transport Association (ALTA), in 2013 some 30% of flights in the region were to or from airports that were operating at over capacity, and at the time of writing this that figure had risen to 35%.
In order to alleviate bottlenecks, governments in the region have revived their airport investment portfolios - mainly under the concession mechanism, given the high level of resources and expertise this kind of infrastructure demands. As airport projects are complex, there are challenges to be faced in the design of contracts, both from the point of view of the business model and the ability of airports to cope with the dynamics of regional air traffic. This opens up many opportunities to develop the region's airports of the future.