Dubai Airshow

Airbus’s Leahy Sees Far More A380s In Middle East’s Future

 - November 9, 2015, 10:00 AM
Airbus COO for customers John Leahy says emerging economies will drive traffic growth.

Speaking at the Dubai Airshow, Airbus COO for customers John Leahy insisted that the future of the A380 remains bright, largely due to the continued development of so-called mega-cities and the role the Middle East region plays in connecting its populations. The Airbus executive admitted, however, that sales of the superjumbo have not yet materialized at a rate the company might have hoped.

“I think [Emirates CEO] Tim Clark has proven that you can fly A380s all over the world with very high passenger loads and make money doing it. I believe, with traffic doubling every 15 years, the case for the A380 is inevitable,” said Leahy. “I wish we had more orders sooner. It takes more time to sell a 380 than it does to sell a 320. I’ll confess to that. But the airlines, who are inherently conservative…are discovering that not only can they fill it, but their competitor can fill his and you really are at a loss if he’s flying an A380 and you’re trying to answer with a 777.”

While delivering the company’s latest market forecast for the region, Leahy cited projections that traffic in the Middle East will grow at a 6.0 percent rate over the next 20 years, well above the world average 4.6 percent. That growth will drive a need for nearly 2,460 new passenger and freighter aircraft valued at $590 billion, according to Airbus. Of those, nearly 1,890 will cover growth needs and 570 will replace existing airplanes. By 2034, it added, the fleet of passenger and freighter aircraft in the Middle East region will almost triple, from nearly 1,100 in 2015 to more than 2,950 by 2034.

According to Airbus, long-haul operations will dominate growth in the region, portending a bright future for not only the A380, but also the A330neo and A350. Airbus recently announced the launch of the extended-range A350-900ULR, with which Singapore Airlines plans to fly direct from Singapore to the U.S. In the Middle East, that same airplane could connect 100 percent of the world’s population, stressed Leahy.

“The impressive rise of the Middle East as the world’s aviation crossroads is in large part due to widebody aircraft,” he said. “Regional and domestic routes are also growing with our single-aisle products. Emerging economies with growing aspirational middle classes will continue to be a strong catalyst for air traffic growth.”

Airbus calls emerging economies “the real engines of worldwide traffic growth.” Economic growth rates in neighboring economies such as China, India, and Africa will average 5.8 percent per year, doubling the number of middle classes to 4 billion people. By 2034, the 6.3 billion people in those economies will account for 40 percent of private worldwide consumption compared with 31 percent today.