Airbus is understandably relieved to have flown the A350 XWB widebody just before the Paris Air Show, but the European manufacturer’s twin-aisle family accounts for only a small proportion of outstanding orders as it prepares to proceed with the new aircraft’s flight-test program. Nevertheless, deliveries of 247 aircraft overall and net orders for 493 new jets by June 1 constitute a “strong start” to 2013 for the European manufacturer, according to marketing senior vice-president Christopher Emerson. Airbus delivered 588 aircraft in 2012 and expects to ship more than 600 this year.
At the beginning of June, the Airbus order backlog stood at 4,928 aircraft, of which 3,894–close to 80 percent–were single-aisle A320s (split 45:55 in favor of the New Engine Option models scheduled for introduction before 2016). The balance comprised 613 orders for the A350, 262 for the twin-aisle A330 and 159 for the double-deck A380.
Geographically, Asia/Pacific dominates the backlog, albeit with a declining share of deliveries that is expected to fall almost a tenth in 2013 from last year’s 40 percent (see table). Europe, Latin America, and the Middle East markets each are expected to take smaller proportions of Airbus deliveries this year.
North America is the only region predicted to account for a larger share this year than in 2012, establishing what Emerson characterized as “[starting] the replacement cycle.” By customer type, Airbus expects leasing companies to continue a trend of expanding delivery-market share.
Pointing out that global traffic (revenue-passenger-miles/kilometers or RPMs/RPKs) has grown by 67 percent since 2000, Emerson said that air travel has proved “resilient to external shocks.” Emerson concluded that U.S. traffic is currently running about one percent higher than at the beginning of 2009, behind Europe where RPMs/RPKs are up 3.6 percent. By contrast, undefined emerging markets are enjoying traffic some 10.2 percent higher than in 2000.
Analyzing recent trends in capacity (available seat-miles/kilometers or ASMs/ASKs), Airbus said that airlines had been cautious about how to handle the world economic crisis, initially by taking aircraft out of service while awaiting developments. The Airbus official said that since 2000 “airline average [passenger] load factors reached peak levels,” having run at an overall growth rate of 0.7 percentage points per year. Meanwhile, he said, “billions of people will increasingly want to travel by air.” Some growth is continuing, he added, “but this has a limit,” and it remains to be seen how capacity would be re-introduced.
He is encouraged that some “untapped potential remains in expanding regions,” essentially all areas except Japan, North America and western Europe (where Airbus predicts about 4 percent annual traffic growth in the next 20 years). Emerson forecasts RPM/RPK growth of 6 percent per year in expanding markets such as Africa, Asia, Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), Eastern Europe, Latin America and the Middle East.
Looking forward, the European manufacturer sees a trend of 4.7 percent average annual growth, which the 2012 Airbus market forecast translates as demand for more than 28,000 aircraft by 2031. This growth will be led by Asia/Pacific, which is seen as enjoying 5.4 percent annual average traffic growth, equal to that predicted for the CIS and exceeded only by the 7.3-percent per year increased forecast for Middle East operators. Carriers in Latin America will grow at 5.9 percent per year, African airlines at 5 percent annually, while Europe and North America will see traffic increase 4.1 and 3.3 percent per year, respectively.
Long-haul capacity has grown considerably over the past 20 years and has increased by 86 percent more than that offered on short-haul routes, said Emerson. With its A380 order backlog declining, Airbus still anticipates continuing expansion among the world’s aviation mega-cities, those where airports accommodate more than 10,000 long-haul passengers a day. Airbus noted that 80 percent of 2011’s 42 aviation mega-cities, which handle more than 90 percent of long-haul traffic, were already slot constrained. By 2021, Emerson predicted that such mega-cities–numbering 67 by then, including eight new ones in Asia/Pacific–will accommodate more than 95 percent of such travel.
Emerson said that 90 percent of delivered A380s operate on mega-city routes, adding that the giant jet is able to command premium fares. Where alternative long-haul flights are available to the same destination, Emerson said that A380 provides higher yield that is worth about $0.03/RPK over a non-A380. The question for airlines, he concluded, is how to grow traffic without losing high-yield travelers as a result of sacrificing passenger comfort.
Airbus order backlog/deliveries
Airbus order backlog* and actual 2012 and planned 2013 deliveries by region/sector
Region/sector % 2012 2013
Africa 1% 1% 2%
***Asia/Pacific 37% 40% 37%
Europe 13% 16% 14%
Latin America 7% 8% 7%
Middle East 8% 7% 6%
North America 12% 5% 9%
Lessors 20% 21% 23%
Corporate, military, undisclosed 2% ** **
Source: Airbus; *May 1, 2013; **Asia/Pacific includes China (2012: 18% China, 22% Asia/Pacific; 2013: split not given); ***corporate and A330 MRTT excluded.