The new world order of airports: aviation demand by 2050*

Meta Design Lab, Singapore University of Technology and Design

Aviation mirrors the expansion of urban centres through increased airport-city linkages, infrastructure enhancements, and passenger numbers. These have all accelerated over the last two decades, especially in Asia and Africa. Aviation supports vital information flow of people and goods, and it is a key driver of countries’ economies and business productivity, despite the recent impacts of COVID on commercial travel. This project explores how the symbiotic relationship between global aviation networks and urban centres will evolve and grow in response to projected changes in city populations and gross domestic product.

I use network science concepts and map them to aspects of global and domestic aviation networks to derive present and future aviation demand. PageRank serves as a proxy for the average desire to visit an airport and its respective urban centre based on access to advantageous business, tourist, or social opportunities. I combine this network analysis with Central Place Theory – specifically, gravity models – to capture the spatial function of the airport as a gateway between member cities of the global aviation network.

Using relationships derived from 2019 data and estimates of the potential of sustainable options like high-speed rail, electric vertical take-off and landing aircraft and hydrogen-powered aircraft, I forecast future aviation demand for urban centres and its consequences on future airport configurations. Preliminary results show that existing volumes of flights, GDP and urban population can be used as a reliable sensor for demand between airport-city pairs. These same factors illustrate that the gravitational force between cities will have a significant influence on the likelihood of inter-cluster travel for business and tourism. While 2019 flights are focused on western European and North American cities, our model’s projections show that by 2050, many key aviation hubs will be in South and Southeast Asia.

2021 - Present
Data Visualization
Bianchi Dy, Ahmed Meeran, Aanal Agrawal, Sam Joyce
The New World Order of Airports: A Population and GDP driven model for Forecasting Aviation Demand in 2050 Science of Cities Symposium, World Cities Summit 2022 B Dy, A Meeran, A Agrawal, SC Joyce
Also selected for presentation
Limits to Adaptive Capacity of Airports using Aerial Imagery and Machine Learning Science of Cities Symposium, World Cities Summit 2022
A Meeran, B Dy, A Agrawal, SC Joyce

Where are airports concentrated? Many major airports are attached to urban centers, and are concentrated in the Global North.

Map of population and GDP deltas between 2019 and 2050. Each city is represented by a circle. 
    The color of the circle is maroon for

The UN predicts that by 2050, there will be significant population growth in cities in Africa, and South and Southeast Asia. This is in contrast to falling populations in continental Europe and East Asia. Meanwhile, GDP is projected to grow across the board, with the largest growth scattered across Asia.

Flights to and from aviation hubs tend to go between East and West rather than North and South.

Certain aircraft manufacturers dominate different regions.

Initial plot of domestic aviation network.

The domestic aviation networks of the US (pink), China (green), and Russia form their own communities in the global aviation network.

Domestic network charts of international aviation networks. Left: 2019, Right: 2050, showing new connections.

By 2050, the combined forces of population and GDP shifts will change the configuration of the global aviation network from being concentrated in cities like London, Paris and Amsterdam to more aviation hubs in South and Southeast Asia, e.g. Dhaka, Delhi, Seoul, Kuala Lumpur, Manila.

Maps of 2019 and 2050 aviation networks. New connections are shown in 2050 map.

The difference in connectivity between the global 2019 and 2050 aviation networks is highlighted by new connections in orange.