Boeing Shows Optimism in New Commercial Airplane Outlook

 - September 14, 2021, 7:11 AM
Boeing doesn't see long-haul travel in aircraft like its 787 Dreamliner fully recovering to pre-Covid levels until at least the end of 2023. (Image: Boeing)

Boeing today delivered a relatively optimistic outlook, forecasting airlines globally will purchase 43,610 new aircraft valued at $7.2 trillion over the next 20 years and that the industry will need more than 2.1 million new personnel to meet projected air travel demand. This includes 612,000 pilots, 626,000 maintenance technicians, and 886,000 cabin crew members.  

The U.S. airframer’s 2021 Commercial Market Outlook (CMO) reflects an increase of about 500 airplanes or 1 percent over last year’s forecast of the long-term demand for new airplanes. Still, it remains below Boeing's 2019 forecast when it projected that airline traffic growth over the next two decades would support a market for 44,040 airplanes worth $6.8 trillion.

The Covid pandemic has dented air traffic but the progress in the recovery in the past year, led by a faster than expected recovery of domestic travel, has given Boeing forecasters confidence in the resilience of the market and in the pent-up demand that exists, Boeing v-p commercial marketing Darren Hulst said. “Once again aviation has proven to be resilient. We see fundamentally a growth market and expect a return to that long-term trajectory of growth [recorded before the pandemic] by the middle of this decade."

The key metrics for air travel remain intact, Hulst explained. “We travel for leisure, for visiting friends and family, and for business. It is a diverse market, and these segments are not changing in terms of our medium and long-term outlook.” From a macro look, Boeing’s long-term view is primarily driven by the global economy “and the global economy is trending back where it would have been if the pandemic wouldn’t have happened,” he noted. “The economy will lead the industry out of this crisis.”

Boeing projects that global GDP will grow on average by 2.7 percent per year over the next 20 years compared to 2019; global passenger and cargo traffic measured in revenue passenger kilometers and cargo revenue tonne kilometers by 4 percent, respectively; and also in terms of the number of active, in-service jets, where it sees the number of aircraft increasing by 3.1 percent per year.

The projected average 4 percent yearly growth of passenger traffic is unchanged from last year’s CMO, and the distribution of Covid-19 vaccines and the easing of travel restrictions will continue to be critical factors in the near-term recovery. The speed of the recovery will be “very dynamic,” asserted Hulst. Demand for intra-regional travel in Europe, the Americas, and Asia is expected to follow the domestic recovery. Boeing sees long-haul travel’s return to pre-pandemic levels by the end of 2023 to early 2024.

In terms of new aircraft deliveries, Boeing projects that over the next decade manufacturers will hand over 19,330 passenger and cargo airplanes to airlines and some 24,280 units in the second decade of the forecast. The global commercial fleet is expected to nearly double, to 49,000 jets by 2040. Hulst expects demand over the next 20-year period to be “balanced,” with China, Europe, North America, and the Asia-Pacific countries (excluding China) each accounting for about 20 percent of new airplane deliveries. “It will be a mix of [demand in] mature markets requiring a significant amount of replacement aircraft and emerging and developing markets that are more on the growth spectrum,” he said.

The majority—up to 75 percent, or 32,660 units—of the expected new aircraft deliveries through 2040 will be narrowbodies with more than 90 seats. Five percent will be regional jets (2,390 aircraft), 18 percent widebodies (7,670 units), and 2 percent widebody freighters (890 aircraft).  

The CMO predicts that about 80 percent of the 25,900 aircraft that were in service in 2019 will be replaced by 2040 as airlines continue their move towards increased productivity and efficiency from an economic and environmental view.