Airport congestion
Tim Boyle  /  Getty Images file
Chicago's O'Hare airport could handle even more passenger traffic than shown in this 2005 file photo if federal forecasters are correct in predicting strong growth over the next decade.
updated 2/28/2006 7:48:10 PM ET 2006-03-01T00:48:10

Airline passengers can look forward to a gradual increase in bargain fares, but airplanes will grow more cramped and the skies more congested, the Federal Aviation Administration predicted Tuesday.

Driven in part by lower fares, the number of airline passengers will rise 45 percent from 738.6 million in 2005 to 1.07 billion in 2017, the FAA said in its annual forecast.

Many passengers will fly on smaller planes as airlines replace jumbo jets with smaller aircraft, such as regional jets, the FAA said.

“Fares will be down, crowds will be up, delays will be longer,” said David Stempler, president of the Air Travelers Association. “You’re more likely to be in the middle seat, or next to someone in the middle seat, or sitting at the gate because you got bumped off the airplane.”

For domestic flights, there will be a blip upward in ticket prices this summer, the FAA says. That’s because schedules have been cut back, due partly to the bankruptcies of Delta Air Lines and Northwest Airlines.

But beginning this fall, ticket prices are likely to fall, according to the FAA. Not all airfares will be bargains, of course. Last-minute purchases or fares on routes that don’t have much competition will still be high.

Still, air travelers who shop around or plan in advance will be the rule rather than the exception over the next decade. The FAA is predicting that airlines will earn a penny less for each mile a passenger flies in 2017 than they earn now.

The skies will also be filled with more cargo airplanes and more small planes, such as air taxis and corporate jets, the FAA said.

Whether there will be enough money to pay for the dramatic growth in air traffic remains to be seen.

The FAA will have a lot less to spend on airport buildings, runway and equipment this year if Congress passes President Bush’s budget proposal.

Bush wants to chop $765 million from this year’s budget for airport buildings, runways and equipment, a 22 percent reduction from the $3.5 billion being spent this year.

The savings would help pay to hire and train more air traffic controllers.

“Getting the right balance is the primary concern,” said FAA chief Marion Blakey, noting that the administration was reluctant to spend money on new infrastructure when more is needed to operate the system.

© 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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