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The number of commercial aeroplanes in the world will double in the next two decades, with the Asia-Pacific region becoming the focal point of global aviation, according to Boeing.
The aircraft manufacturer forecast there would be demand for more than 35,000 new planes worth $4.8tn (£3.5tn) over the next 20 years, with airlines keen to replace fuel-hungry older models to cope with high oil prices.
By 2032 the global fleet will top 40,000, it said, as passenger and cargo traffic grow by 5% a year.
Randy Tinseth, Boeing’s vice president of marketing, said the pressure on airlines from high fuel costs meant efficiency and cheap operational costs were the biggest factor in sales: “The contribution of fuel to the cost of flying planes has doubled. As a result, we see customers looking foremost at efficiency – in fuel, but also in maintenance and labour, the second highest cost contributors.”
He said one new technology, blended winglets, where the wingtip sweeps upwards, reducing drag, had saved more than 3bn gallons of fuel.
Noting that passenger journeys were expected to pass 3bn this year, Tinseth said: “Air travel has become an integral part of the social and economic fabric of the world. “The centre of aviation will move from the US to Asia, and Asia Pacific will be by far the largest market place.”
He said economic growth was easily the biggest factor in aircraft sales, but that new technology and lower fares would also stoke demand.
Boeing said single-aisle planes would make up more than 60% of anticipated demand – high enough, he said, for a third manufacturer to edge into the Boeing-Airbus duopoly.
It predicted much higher demand for small and medium-sized wide-bodied planes, carrying typically 200-400 passengers – its 777s or 787s, or the Airbus A330 or A350 – than for very large planes. Tinseth said sales of its great rival Airbus’s A380 were far below predictions.
Airbus forecast almost 80% more large wide-bodied planes – 780 to 1,300 – would be sold by 2031 in its own outlook last September. A spokesman said that while sales of Boeing’s large plane, the 747, were drying up, it expected demand for the A380 to be sustained especially on high-volume routes such as across the Atlantic.
Tinseth, meanwhile, said he believed the Boeing 787 or Dreamliner’s troubles would soon be forgotten: “I believe once we have continued successful operation, I don’t think people will hesitate to get back on.”
TUI’s Thomson Airways is soon to launch the first Dreamliner passenger flights by a British airline, while British Airways will take delivery of two 787s by the end of June.
Tinseth added: “What we went through on the Dreamliner is a case study of what should be done to ensure safe travel. One million people have already travelled on the aircraft.”