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There is one thing you can predict in the airline business, for as long as he lasts out Randy Baseler, Boeing”s official fortune-teller (see left) , will be making his annual predictions on aircraft sales for the next two decades. He will tell you of course that he cannot foresee such events as 9/11 but all in all, as one looks back over the years, he has had a fair degree of success. The genial Randy was in London at the end of March and his analysis is on the Boeing web site. In his view the market there will be a requirement for close on 24,000 new passenger aircraft in the 20 years to 2024 (1,200 units per year on average) 13,650 of which will be single aisle and just 900 747 and larger aircraft. In 2003, possibly the bottom of the trough, Airbus produced 305 units, Boeing 281, Embraer 101 and Bombardier 220, for a grand total of 907 aircraft plus about 40 turboprops. In 1999, their best year ever, Boeing delivered 620 aircraft.
Randy of course sees everything from a Boeing perspective (which will be disputed by the French led opposition). What he says is that the growth of air travel since 1980 (up nearly 50% in passenger terms) has not been met by larger aircraft but by more frequencies and an increase in non-stop flights. The average aircraft size has dipped to around 100 seats due to some extent by 747 operators offering more space in all classes, and also carriers such as British Airways downsizing from 757 to A320 for mid-range services. He points to the success of the 767 (and 757) over the north Atlantic where carriers are missing the major hubs and going point to point.
This trend is even more evident in Europe. Since the final liberalisation of the market in 1997 the hubs have been bypassed with the opening up of regional airports and an increase in frequencies. The average aircraft size has remained static, again at 100 seats. Boeing in fact defeats its own argument to some extent by last year selling Ryanair 180-seat 737s, rather than 150-seat variants. Ryanair are now carrying more passengers but with less seats sold as a percentage of what is available. A falling load factor never looks good in the City even if a case can be made out.
On the trans Pacific routes the 777 is doing in the 21st century, what the smaller 767 did in the last two decades of the 20th. Opening up city pairs. The widest (and most comfortable) of the twins has been a big success story and nobody thinks twice about using it on such non-stop routes as New York ” Hong Kong (Continental 15 hours) or Tokyo to Los Angles (United 10 hours).
What all this is leading up to is the fact, according to Boeing, that typically where as there are now 13 city pairs between China and North America in 2024 there will be 42 with a potential of significantly more. And the aircraft for this market ” The 7E7 rather than the Airbus A380.
Airbus is in fact predicting similar air travel growth over the next 20 years. How the carriers accommodate the growth differentiates the two forecasts. Airbus says that the trend will be towards bigger ”planes and Boeing sees the future with smaller more efficient aircraft. At a major hub such as Heathrow anything between 30% and 70% of passengers on a typical jumbo flight will be changing aircraft (interling). If this ratio is to be maintained the carriers will have to either increase the size of the feeder aircraft, or increase frequencies, an unlikely scenario. The balance of passengers, assuming the current load factors, will have to use the terminal and its hinterland. Whilst Heathrow T5 and places like Dubai, Charles de Gaulle and the two rebuilt major German airports can cope with the numbers (just), whether the local transport infrastructures are up to the task is another question. Anyone who has suffered the admittedly out of date Heathrow T3 on a crowded evening will understand the problems. Our friends from the Orient don”t travel light!
The Airbus A380 will fly early next year and will probably make a triumphant first public appearance at the Paris Air Show. It will be impressive and very newsworthy. A true ”air bus”. Boeing says it is a 20th century design dressed up to appear to be a 21st century aircraft. To date it has received just over 100 firm commitments. Randy Baseler points out that Airbus has forecast 168 A380 are needed for the top ten city pairs. Toulouse has also said that there is a requirement for 1,138 aircraft larger than the 747 over the next 20 years. Boeing has come up with a figure of 3,500 7E7s. The 737 tops the aircraft sales with currently just under 4,000 in airline service with the A320 series around the 2,250 mark. And just to give further thought Boeing is now talking about re-engining the B52, a 60-year-old design. Airclaims, the British airline consultancy and resource data provider used by most in the industry, say that there are now just about 2,000 aircraft in the parked fleet, about twice the figure before economic downturn and 9/11. About 500 of these aircraft will return to service as the market picks up.
Who would predict the requirements for the next five years let along the next 20. Mr Baseler has a job for life looking into his crystal ball.