Oliver Wyman Forum

For airports to be more sustainable and accommodate demand, the aviation industry needs concerted investments in everything from green tech to biometrics.

Executive Summary

The state of travel – and the way people move around the world – will change dramatically in the coming decades as global priorities shift and new technologies become available. Airports will be core drivers of industrywide change, while themselves being transformed in the process.

Airports are, after all, where air travel journeys begin and end.

So, what will an airport’s purpose be in 2030, 2040, and 2050? What should leaders in the industry do to build foundations that maintain and foster global connectivity while enhancing competitiveness? What technologies need to be prioritized? And what steps must be taken to ensure innovation and change flourish in a way that helps rather than hinders surrounding communities?

Airports already play an important role in the community – at both local and global levels – and their influence will only increase as the aviation industry grows. The global commercial aviation fleet is expected to expand by 33%, to more than 36,000 aircraft by 2033, according to an Oliver Wyman analysis. Meanwhile, Airports Council International (ACI) World predicts an average annual growth of 5.8% in passenger traffic between 2022 and 2040. By 2040, more than 19 billion passengers will pass through world airports each year. This report explores:

  • The trends that will shape the airports of 2030, 2040, and 2050
  • What airports will look like in 2030, 2040, and 2050
  • What airport leaders, industry and governments can do to pave a successful and sustainable way forward

To answer these critical questions, Oliver Wyman, ACI World, and the Sustainable Tourism Global Center identified four airport types that generally categorize an airport’s purpose and outlook:

  • The City Airport: central urban location, typically servicing business travelers and short-haul commuters
  • The Global Hub Connector: fans transit passengers out to the world while also serving a wide local catchment area
  • The Cargo Champion: a major enabler of logistics and the movement of goods
  • The Leisure Gateway: an airport that serves a tourist destination

Interviews were conducted with 18 chief executives spanning all four airport types to identify their unique needs and visions for the future.

Whilst each airport type has a different starting point, purpose, and development journey, it became clear when talking to the leaders that there are universal trends. Using these common threads, five megatrends that will shape the industry’s future were identified:

  • Achieving Net Zero
  • Technological Innovation
  • Intermodal Connectivity
  • The Changing Workforce
  • The Passenger Experience Revolution

This report specifies challenges and opportunities across the five megatrends and identifies what airport leaders, regulators, and other decision-makers should prioritize to allow for sustainable industry growth from decade to decade.

Full Report