Airbus looks at recession with 2020 vision

06 December 2002

After reviewing the current global economic recession, European manufacturer Airbus Industrie has reduced its 20-year global market forecast for annual air traffic growth by less than a quarter-percentage point - from 4.9 per cent to 4.7 per cent. The company maintains that the present downturn will come to be seen as a mere blip in the inexorable growth of air transport. The steady curve on the graph has merely become less steep, echoing the trend witnessed after Iraq was expelled from Kuwait in early 1991. 'We are quite confident that history will repeat itself,' says senior vice-president for product strategy Adam Brown. Airbus forecasts the world fleet will increase from 10,900 aircraft to almost 19,750 by 2020, excluding aircraft with fewer than 100 seats. Brown expects traffic growth to generate demand for almost 9,000 new airliners and a similar quantity of replacements.

The European manufacturer also predicts significant growth in demand for narrow-bodied airliners with 210-plus seats. Much of the demand for 200-249-seat jets had been expected to be filled by wide-bodied aircraft, such as Airbus A300/A310s and Boeing 767s. Earlier this year, Airbus executives spoke of a future market for a new wide-body to replace its A300/A310. But bigger narrow-bodied aircraft such as the Boeing 757 will also be needed and the company is forecasting demand over the next 20 years for close to 2,000 such aircraft. Its own largest narrow-body is the 189-seat A321.

Global traffic will grow by roughly 150 per cent in the next two decades, reaching about 8,300 billion revenue passenger-kilometres (RPKs) in 2020, compared with an estimated 3,300 billion RPKs in 2000. With passenger numbers currently growing faster than aircraft size, Airbus expects increased frequency on major routes. Nevertheless, growth in average aircraft capacity will resume in the second half of the decade, as Airbus introduces its 555 or 656-seat A380. To be launched by Emirates, it represents the biggest development in commercial aviation since Boeing introduced the 747 in 1970. Boeing argues that increasing numbers of flights will fragment the air travel market, with new routes opening up between pairs of secondary cities. It sees the Airbus A340-600 and its own Boeing 777 as the obvious replacements for the older 350-seat 747s. Airbus expects larger capacity aircraft to be used on Middle East routes, with average capacity for regional aircraft increasing from 214 to 236 seats by 2020.

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