The Middle East is sitting at the end of the air transport rainbow, if Airbus forecasts are to be believed: its share of global traffic will expand faster than that of any other geographical area, increasing by one half in the next 20 years. “Traffic carried by [the region’s] airlines is expected to grow at the highest rate of 7.1 percent/annum, accounting for 12 percent of all traffic carried in 2032 [compared with about 8 percent last year],” according to the latest Airbus 20-year global market forecast, published in September. This growth compares with an expected worldwide annual average of 4.7 percent.
The company attributes this expansion to governments in the region recognizing the industry’s potential contribution to economic growth. “Traffic within Middle Eastern countries has doubled [in] the last decade. International and regional air transport are expected to keep growing, with billions of dollars being invested in airlines and airports to meet increasing demand and regional aspirations,” according to the forecast document.
“The surge of aviation in the Middle East is second to none in the world,” say Airbus analysts, who point out that governments in the region generally consider the industry to be “a powerful tool for economic development” and will accordingly continue to invest in future airline and airport infrastructure. (Note: Airbus defines the Middle East region as including the Gulf states, Iran and Afghanistan, but excluding Turkey and the Arab countries of North Africa.)
To meet the predicted traffic growth, the region’s carriers will need to take delivery of almost 2,000 passenger aircraft during 2013-32, says the forecast. In the past 20 years, the Middle East fleet of airliners with 100-plus seats has quadrupled from 218 in 1992 to 875 at the start of 2013. Heavy investment in new equipment in the region has seen the average aircraft age fall from 13 years in 1992 to nine years today, with some airline fleets reported by Airbus to be an average of only five years old.
“More than half of [current aircraft] are operated on medium- and long-haul routes, highlighting the global strategy adopted by the region’s airlines,” says the European manufacturer. There also has been “very impressive” growth rate among aircraft providing shorter services, largely driven by emerging low-cost carriers (LCCs). “The [annual] growth in single-aisle [fleets] has outpaced [that among] twin-aisle and very large aircraft (VLAs): 8.1 percent, compared to 6.5 percent,” the Toulouse-based manufacturer reports.
In the coming 20 years, the area will require a total of 1,999 new passenger aircraft, comprising 779 single-aisle models, 875 twin-aisle designs and 345 VLAs, according to Airbus soothsayers, who say the Middle East will be “the second largest region in terms of demand for VLAs, at 26 percent.” Additionally, 31 medium-size and 45 large freighters will be needed to provide necessary capacity for predicted air-cargo movements.
“The Middle East is a very diverse region, with some of the [world’s] fastest growing markets and economies [as well as] on-going economic and geopolitical difficulties,” says Airbus. “[Nevertheless], many governments are aware of the rising [local and global] importance of aviation [and] have made its development a cornerstone of strategic plans to [become] a key element in the world’s current and future aviation network.”
Such strategy has led to “the impressive growth of Middle Eastern carriers, who enjoyed a remarkable 8.2 percent traffic growth in 2012.” Major operators in the region are pursuing “ambitious commercial [plans] to expand short- and long-haul networks,” according to Airbus forecasters.
While Airbus acknowledges that the region’s “unique geographic situation” may be fortuitous in allowing local carriers “to capture and satisfy travelers from all over the world,” it also underscores current growth in Middle East intraregional air transport as “very clearly displayed” in the rapid expansion of LCC operations and their capture of traffic, both within and to/from the region. The manufacturer attributes this to a young, dynamic population, many of whom share a common language and who are eager for work and to take leisure opportunities both inside and outside the region.
The predictions for the capacity required to meet expected regional demand appear against a broader background in which Airbus foresees a global fleet more than twice the current size and a need for almost 30,000 new airliners in the coming 20 years. “Airlines in the Middle East, Latin America and Asia Pacific will enjoy higher than average traffic development, growing at 7.1 percent, 6.0 percent and 5.5 percent, respectively. This is fueled by the aspirations of airlines to benefit from privileged access to fast-growing markets, which will generate [an increasing] ability and desire to travel.”
Each year, Airbus market analysts perform more than 200 traffic-flow forecasts, covering over 100,000 origin and destination (O&D) city-pairs, and “model” demand for nearly 750 airlines. Confirming that emerging markets–previously dubbed developing countries or the third world–remain the “key and leading drivers” of future air transport, Airbus points out that historic areas should not be ignored: “The importance of advanced aviation markets cannot be underestimated. In fact by 2032, about 60 percent of all traffic will still involve [such] markets, primarily North America and Europe.”
By 2032, the manufacturer expects passenger aircraft (with more than 100 seats) and freighter aircraft (10 metric tons or greater) to number 36,556–“more than doubling the 17,739 aircraft fleet in service today.” During the period, airlines are seen as taking delivery of 29,226 new passenger and 871 cargo aircraft valued at $ 4.4 trillion (at current list prices). The deliveries are perceived to comprise 20,242 single-aisle aircraft, 7,273 twin-aisle designs and 1,711 VLAs.
The European manufacturer reiterates its consistent judgment, often challenged by Boeing (despite of the U.S. competitor’s own forecast statistics appearing to confirm the Airbus view), that on average airliners are getting bigger. “If the number of seats offered by the world’s airlines are divided by [numbers of flights], it can be clearly seen that average aircraft seating [volume] is increasing,” says the forecast.
Airbus also says that carriers are increasing the sizes of aircraft in their existing backlogs and the density of their current cabin layouts. “Manufacturers in turn are looking at ways to add seats to existing products and some [are] considering or launching larger variants of existing aircraft families to meet demand,” report the market analysts.
The forecast relates the manufacturer’s view of the air-transport market’s key economic and operational drivers in the next 20 years and their implications for new-aircraft demand, requirements that are governed by actual passenger behavior. “As in the past, it is journeys–how they are performed, where they start and finish, when they happen and who will take them that will define the future.”
Airbus analysts are encouraged that recent events have not stifled travel demand. “In the last year, despite continuing social problems and sluggish economic growth in parts of the world, aviation has continued to grow through developments in world economic activity, demographics, positive socioeconomic progress and simply the ability of aviation to deliver real benefits to real people.
“People, where they choose to live, the work they do and their aspirations are all a big part of the story, and will drive factors such as urbanization, wealth, disposable income and consumer spending, [which are] key factors in the growth of air transport.” That future will steer aerospace manufacturers “toward areas of innovation that will define the shape and structure of our industry in 2032 and beyond,” concludes Airbus.
MIDDLE EAST PASSENGER-TRAFFIC FLOW GROWTH
(Compound annual growth: 2013-32)
Market Growth (percent)
Middle East-South America
Sub-Saharan Africa-Middle East
Middle East-South Africa
Central Europe-Middle East
Middle East-United States
Middle East-North Africa
Indian subcontinent-Middle East
Intra Middle East
Western Europe-Middle East
Central America-Middle East
Domestic Middle East
Source: Airbus GMF