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Billions of Passengers Travel by Air Every Year

The amount of people flying per year has increased 900 percent since 1970.

With one travelling season over (Thanksgiving) and another one about to begin (Christmas and New Year), it is a good time to acknowledge that a greater proportion of human kind than ever can enjoy the miracle of flight, and enjoy the experience of visiting far-off places. As you can see at HumanProgress, the number of air passengers carried globally increased from 310 million in 1970 and 3.2 billion in 2014, an increase of over 900 percent. World’s population, in the meantime, increased only 97 percent over the same time period, rising from 3.7 billion to 7.3 billion.

Over time, flying has been greatly democratized, and made safer and cheaper. What has not changed much since the 1960s, however, is the speed of flying. Consider a flight from London to Sydney. In 1965, a plane had to make 6 stops along the way in order to refuel. A plane today has to refuel only once, because it can carry more fuel and is much more fuel efficient. But, the length of time it takes to get from London to Sydney is not greatly different, having declined from 29 hours to 23 hours.

The good news is that people are thinking about new ways to make global travel faster. According to a report in The Telegraph, the giant defense firm BAE Systems has recently bought minority stake of a small technology company called Reaction Engine. The support of BAE will allow Reaction Engine to continue working on its breakthrough engine, known as “Sabre.” This versatile engine can be used for both air and space travel, reaching up to five times the speed of sound for air travel and twenty-five times the speed of sound for space travel. Using these high rates of speed, it could be possible to fly anywhere in the world in four hours within the next ten to fifteen years.

Explore more data like this at HumanProgress.org.

Photo Credit: ratterrell/flickr

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  • some guy||

    But, the length of time it takes to get from London to Sydney is not greatly different, having declined from 29 hours to 23 hours.

    That 23 hours is ideal travel time for a flight attendant, hardly the average person. The average person now has to get to the airport 3 hours early to through security theater. Then the average person has to endure a 5 hours layover so they have enough time to go through more security theater while switching planes. Actual travel time from Sydney to London probably averages about the same now as it did in 1965. Thanks TSA.

  • Hyperbolical (wadair)||

    And with the additional time required to park and maybe rent a car, intrastate travel is just as well done by car--even within the great state of Texas. A flight from DFW to Austin can use up 3 to 4 hours of one's day while the same trip by automobile takes the same 3 to 4 hours and costs less in money and hassle.

    I'm convinced that the main reason for the TSA is to make air passengers feel safe after 9/11. It benefits the airlines much more than the passengers. So I wonder how many more passenger miles there would have been by now were there no TSA theater.

  • robc||

    Driverless cars will absolutely kill medium distance flights combined with this.

  • Craig Smith||

    So, so true. Not to mention that hyperloop...

  • Silverleaf||

    ^^^^^^^ THIS. If it even takes me an hour *longer* to drive than it would to fly, I'll drive. I travel a lot on business, and the hassle of flying has cost the airlines a lot of my travel spend.

  • Hank Phillips||

    the hassle of flying having your intestines searched by prohibitionist asset-forfeiture-seeking looters...

  • Hank Phillips||

    I miss Shelley Berman's airline jokes...

  • B. Woodrow Chippenhaus||

    I'd consider a 6 hour decrease in flight time significant when it constitutes roughly 20% of the original travel time.

    YMMV

  • Agammamon||

    Not only that - but deregulation *itself* has greatly reduced travel times altogether.

    Tech and deregulation has reduced the travel time for the '1%' by 20% (from 29 to 26 hours) but it also has reduced the travel time from the London to Sydney for the rest of use from *infinity hours* to 26 hours.

  • The Iconoclast||

    This is great. Deregulation has been a huge boon for air travelers. While there aren't likely to be substantial decreases in flight times in the next 20 years or more, the one big innovation in air travel over the last few years is Internet access. Having Internet on the plane makes it almost as good as not going.

  • B. Woodrow Chippenhaus||

    Interesting that the line increases at a generally steady rate through the airline deregulation. If airline deregulation was significant, one might expect to see a statistically significant increase in the number of passengers travelling by air shortly after it took place, but it wasn't until '09-'10 that there was a marked increase.

  • sarcasmic||

    You expect deregulation in the United States to have a significant effect on world air travel?

  • B. Woodrow Chippenhaus||

    Oops, misread the graph. Still, I would have expected something more noticeable.

  • Galactic Chipper Cdr Lytton||

    Worldwide deregulation? Or rather, less regulation? That's about the time various open skies agreements started opening up landing slots. Also, rise of low cost airlines and increasing general economic growth.

  • UnCivilServant||

    That assumes, falsely, that the industry is perfectly nimble and knew how to best take advantage of the changes deregulation allowed immediately upon the removal of restrictions.

    Airlines are lumbering organizations and not quick to change.

  • MSimon||

    Aircraft interiors don't redesign themselves overnight. Producing those interiors doesn't happen instantly. Then you have to get passengers used to getting treated like cattle. Airports need to be reworked. It all takes time.

  • Ted S.||

    Is every article going to be accompanied by that damn overlay that you have to scroll,to the top to get rid of if you click on the link to go directly to the comments?

  • MSimon||

    Click on black works.

  • Marshall Gill||

    I will just leave this here

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0IZMn3uvm7U

  • to_each_his_own||

    LOL, What the heck did I just watch?

  • Medical Physics Guy||

    When I was in college in around 1993-4, a campus environmental group put up signs says "fly planes while you still can". Because back then we had hit Peak Oil and soon would be back in the horse & carriage.

  • block30||

    Security screening times need to go down! Another advancement is safety. It's been years since the Q400 crash in Buffalo, and then there was the miracle on the Hudson, but everyone got out fine.

  • ||

    Yeah, the SABRE engine looks real promising. The SABRE-powered SKYLON aircraft is supposed to finally deliver SSTO (single-stage to orbit) with a single, completely reusable craft.

  • FreeRadical*||

    One thing about flight times - the actual speed of jetliners hasn't changed between 1965 and today. That's because the laws of physics and aerodynamics haven't changed to keep up with the times. Damn those thudding, luddite laws of physics to HELL!!!

    Another thing - it annoys the shit out of me when orbital speeds are given by Mach number. Mach numbers are undefined in (near) vacuum. Why this is so common, I don't know.

  • jenni47||

    I'm making over $7k a month working part time. I kept hearing other people tell me how much money they can make online so I decided to look into it. Well, it was all true and has totally changed my life. For further details, Check this link............. www.earni8.com

  • Alan@.4||

    Given the "quality" of air travel, or what it seems to be, one wonders why.

  • Hank Phillips||

    In 1971 the world population was 3.77 billion. Today it is well over 7 billion. Back then you could hop out of a car, run straight through the airport and out to the gate and wait for a standby flight opportunity. Back then the US was only bombing Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. Today, 25 years after the US made bombing the Middle East a government sport you'd be shot dead coming through the door. But it does make you wonder how much we'd be flying if we could still rush into an airport and try our luck at flying standby.

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