Airbus remains buoyant on the long-term demand for new aircraft and even upped its 20-year forecast. This optimism persists despite increasing trade tensions, expectations of a slowdown of economic growth and the globalization of calls to temper air transport’s growth to reduce carbon emissions and flying’s negative impact on the environment. The flight-shaming movement, which started in Sweden, has crossed Europe, and while it has not yet spread with the same vigor to the Middle East or other parts of the world, Extinction Rebellion protesters have a worldwide following and their campaigns increasingly target aviation.
For Christian Scherer, Airbus chief commercial officer and head of Airbus International, the “flygskam” movement represents an opportunity, not a concern. “What might strike some as a disruption or an impediment to the industry, we see this as an opportunity to continue to drive the efficiency of the industry,” he stressed during a briefing in London presenting the OEM’s Global Market Forecast (GMF) for 2019-2038. Air transportation is on a path to decarbonize and Airbus intends to be a leader in this trend, he noted.
There are some clouds on the horizon, he said, conceding that the company remains concerned about increased protectionism and other geopolitical risks but, he insisted, “the huge dark clouds will blow over and we will continue to benefit from the resilience of the industry.” Air transport has become more balanced and has proven to be resilient to external shocks, weathering short-term economic storms and geopolitical disturbances, according to Scherer. “Economies thrive on air transportation. People and goods want to connect,” he said.
For the next 20 years, the Airbus forecast predicts a 4.3 percent global annual growth of passenger traffic measured in revenue passenger kilometer (RPK). Asia-Pacific, the new world economic growth engine, will lead world traffic by 2038 and the domestic Chinese market will become the largest traffic flow before the end of the forecast period. More than half of the top 20 biggest traffic flows will involve Asia-Pacific, while four will involve the Middle East: flows connecting Western Europe, the Indian Subcontinent and emerging economies in Asia with the Middle East, and the intra-Middle East traffic flow. Five of the 20 fastest growing traffic flows over the next two decades involve the MENA region—the Middle East to South America; North Africa to China; the Middle East to China; emerging economies in Asia to the Middle East; and Sub Sahara Africa to the Middle East.
With a projected average annual RPK growth of 5.6 percent, passenger traffic to, from and within the Middle East is expected to grow at a higher rate than the world average and even slightly above the Asian traffic growth rate of 5.4 percent. More than being a crossroads between East and West, the region is also well located in terms of people and wealth, the Airbus GMF pointed out. “Plotting global population against regions, the Middle East is closest to the world’s traveling population; in fact, 100 percent are within 8,400 nm,” it noted.
In addition, data for inbound and outbound traffic growth for the Middle East between 2002 and 2018 show the region’s resilience to a number of global crises over that period, especially when compared to other regions. Airbus also expects the rapid expansion of low-cost carriers (LCCs), both foreign and indigenous, to be a main driver for the region’s forecast RPK growth and support a doubling of the number of aviation mega-cities in the Middle East, from five today to 11 by 2038. Airbus describes aviation mega-cities (AMCs) as urban areas with the most aviation connectivity and international passengers.
In terms of fleet development, Airbus anticipates a need for 39,210 new passenger and cargo aircraft over the next 20 years, a near 5 percent increase over its forecast a year ago. Last year, it predicted demand for 37,400 new passenger aircraft over 100 seats and jet freighters over ten tonnes. Based on its revised segmentation, the European OEM’s latest forecast gives rise to a demand for 29,720 small airliners, 5,370 medium, and 4,120 large. The small category comprises all A220 and A320 family models except the A321LR and A321XLR, which Airbus placed—owing to its long-range capability of up to 4,000 nm and 4,700 nm in a standard 2-class layout, respectively—in the medium category alongside the A330. The large category is mainly occupied by the A350-900 and -1000 owing to the phase-out of the A380 program. Airbus does not include models from other manufacturers in its segmentation overview, even though its GMF covers industry-wide demand.
Of the 39,210 projected deliveries of new-build aircraft—of which 850 are freighters—globally by 2038, 65 percent (25,000 units) are to support growth while 36 percent of shipments (14,210 aircraft) are to replace older models. Airbus believes the large category will account for 10 percent of deliveries, medium will represent 14 percent, and the small category will make up 78 percent of the total volume, equaling 29,720 aircraft.
The Middle East will hold an 8 percent share of all new-build deliveries in the next 20 years, comprising 3,200 passenger airliners—about 2,110 will be to fuel growth and 1,090 to replace exiting aircraft—and 40 freighters, according to the Airbus GMF. Overall, considering also the 195 aircraft that will remain from today, the region’s in-service passenger fleet will grow to 3,395 in 2038, from 1,285 aircraft at the beginning of 2019.
About half of the new passenger aircraft will sort under Airbus’s small category, while 475 deliveries will be M-segmented models and 1,095 airlines will be A350s and the remaining A380s from Emirates’s backlog of the type. Airbus in February confirmed its last superjumbo would be delivered in 2021.
Airbus also estimates that there is a need for 50,080 new pilots and 51,920 new technicians in the next 20 years to cope with the Middle East’s anticipated fleet growth.