FAA: Sky’s the limit on airfares

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**FILE** In this Sept. 8, 2008 file photo planes move about a terminal at LaGuardia Airport in New York. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan, file)

Air fares are likely to stay high throughout this decade, as passenger travel grows but airline capacity shrinks, according to a government forecast issued Thursday.

In its annual economic analysis, the Federal Aviation Administration said travelers won’t get much relief until airlines start getting more competition, which is years off. The FAA predicted that more airline mergers and consolidation will shrink the number of cities served and the number of flights available in the nation’s air travel network.

U.S. airline travel is expected to nearly double over the next 20 years, the FAA said, but in the near term, airline capacity will shrink.

The forecast is for the number of miles flown by paying passengers to rise from 815 billion in 2011 to 1.57 trillion in 2032, with an average increase of 3.2 percent a year.

“Imagine a carrier the size of Jet Blue coming into the system every 10 months,” Michael Huerta, the FAA’s acting administrator, said in a statement. “That is the demand we are forecasting.”

Airlines are expected to do their best to match the number of seats available to consumer demand so that planes fly as full as possible.

Last month, Southwest, JetBlue, United, Delta, American and US Airways raised prices on many medium-length and long flights by $10 per round trip, citing the high cost of jet fuel.

Airlines raised fares about a dozen times in 2011.

AP

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