Almost half the new jetliners needed in the Middle East over the next 20 years will be twin-aisle designs, according to the latest Boeing Commercial Market Outlook (CMO). European network carriers have been challenged by Middle East operators that have gained significant market share by providing global one-stop service to destinations in areas such as Australia, India, and Southeast Asia, led by Gulf-based airlines exploiting the geographic accident of their location.
Dubai’s Emirates Airline was the pioneer in using its base for perhaps the world’s largest hub-and-spoke operation to link almost any two points on Earth, late vice-chairman Sir Maurice Flanagan famously offering non-stop Boeing 777 service “anywhere out of Dubai (except the Galapagos Islands).” Abu Dhabi’s Etihad Airways joined Qatar Airways in following Emirates.
“The Middle East has a centuries-old role connecting the economies and populations of Asia, Europe, and Africa,” said Boeing. “[Now], an eight-hour flight can reach 80 percent of the world’s population, and the same boundary will contain 70 percent of global economic growth for the next two decades.”
Middle East passenger traffic (revenue passenger miles/kilometer) is expected to increase at 5.1 percent per year as regional gross domestic product expands at 3.2 percent per year. To address growth, airlines will require a 3,130 new aircraft—nominally valued at $725 billion—as combined fleets grow by 4.9 percent/year from 1,550 to 4,030 units by 2038.
The aircraft represent 7 percent of the overall 44,040 units (valued at $6,810 billion) that Boeing believes necessary to support 4.6 percent/year global traffic growth during 2019-38.
Widebodies constitute 46 percent of forecast Middle East deliveries, the highest proportion of any region and only slightly smaller than the 52 percent comprising single-aisle designs. The remaining 2 percent is split between cargo and regional jet models.
Demand for twin-aisles will be stimulated by their usefulness in two applications, said Boeing: on high-volume Asian and European routes, and ultra-long-range, one-stop services between cities such as London and Sydney.
Growth of the Gulf carriers’ “one-stop-to-anywhere super-connector business model” has involved longer-range airplanes linking destinations “as far [away] as the U.S. west coast and Australia.” The appeal of “affordable travel on long one-stop flights, enabled by Middle East airlines’ central location [when viewed on a map oriented either side of the Greenwich meridian] will help drive higher-than-average growth” on routes to Asia-Pacific (predicted to enjoy 6.2 percent/year traffic growth), according to the manufacturer.
Exposure to fast-growing Asian markets is a key advantage for Middle East airlines through well-established trade and labor ties and because of burgeoning groups of people in these countries with the financial freedom to travel, said Boeing. Growth of 3.9 percent/year in this middle-class sector is almost 2.8 times that in the overall population (1.4 percent/year), according to the CMO.
Middle East operators are “well-positioned to serve these new travelers for destinations within the Afro-Eurasian landmass.” Indeed, the greatest 2019-38 growth in Middle East inter-regional traffic is expected on routes to/from China (set to grow about 500 percent) and South Asia (240 percent). Traffic on Southeast Asian and European services is seen as expanding by 150 percent and 130 percent, respectively.
The latter three markets benefit from Middle East hubs lying close to the great-circle (shortest distance) routes connecting Europe and Southeast Asia, “implying minimal penalties for distance in connecting itineraries [and] the opportunity to build geographically balanced [connections]," according to the CMO. Middle East-China traffic is forecast to see high growth rates, reaching six times its current flow by 2038, with the U.S. manufacturer suggesting that, between China and Africa, Middle East carriers “may well be positioned to replicate earlier successes in connecting South/Southeast Asia with Europe.”
Boeing sees many opportunities within the Middle East, where intra-regional traffic will increase by about 150 percent. Deregulation in some markets has stimulated short-haul travel on low-fare airlines, with "the domestic market in Saudi Arabia potentially the next growth area.”
While tourism is well developed in some locations, “governments in the region understand [its] importance to economic diversification: when developed and encouraged [Middle East] economies have seen tourism contribute over 10 percent of GDP.”
Finally, Middle East cargo traffic does not figure greatly in Boeing commercial-market analysts' judgment. They mention only a modest 3.1 percent/year growth on routes to/from Europe (and the Middle East is not among eight other cited inter-regional traffic flows). A small 2.3 percent growth on routes within Europe is the only freight market growing more slowly, while world air-cargo traffic will expand at 4.2 percent over the coming 20 years, concludes the 2019-38 document.