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OEMs Banking On Strong Middle East Traffic Growth

 - November 9, 2017, 9:00 AM

The Middle East’s surging traffic growth has been a boon for Airbus and Boeing, as both manufacturers have racked up scores of orders—most of them for widebodies—with the region’s carriers. Order backlogs show that airlines in the region remain optimistic, but even a slight wobble in growth could lead to fleet-strategy changes, an analysis by Canaccord Genuity concludes.

“While traffic currently supports the planned fleet expansions, considering the significant exposure to the Boeing 777 (including the 777X) as well as the A350 and the A380, any slowdown in the traffic in this region would have an outsize impact on the delivery schedules at both Airbus and Boeing, in our view,” Canaccord analyst Ken Herbert wrote in a recent research note.

Middle East carriers, led by Emirates Airline, Etihad Airways and Qatar Airways, have an aggregate fleet size of about 1,320 aircraft. Their firm-order commitments will push this to about 1,930 in 2022, a 7.9 percent compound annual growth rate (CAGR), according to Herbert. Including the capacity that those aircraft will add, the CAGR as measured in seats is 8.1 percent.

The Middle East region’s traffic growth, as measured by revenue passenger kilometers (RPKs), has been strong in recent years, averaging about 11 percent in 2014-2016. Through the first eight months of 2017, growth was still solid, at 7 percent, but slightly below what the region’s airlines had anticipated.

Canaccord’s detailed analysis, which breaks down mainline aircraft orders by region and expected delivery date and projected retirements, shows that the Middle East’s growth remains above the global average, even factoring in the recent decline. Global airlines are on track to add about 6 percent more seats annually through 2022.

“While passenger traffic continues to push above the historical average growth of around 5 percent, we believe the current outlook for overall capacity growth of around 6 percent leaves no margin for error,” Herbert said.

Recent demand is proving the airlines correct. Traffic growth has averaged 6.4 percent for the past five years, and was up 7.9 percent in the first seven months of 2017, according to IATA figures.

Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg acknowledged recently that widebody demand has seen “varying levels of near-term demand across aircraft models" of late. But the rising number of aircraft approaching retirement age means that Boeing is confident in a steady order stream in the coming years.

“We have seen steady orders and have high confidence in a meaningful increase in widebody replacement demand early next decade,” added Muilenburg.