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Plane demand to take off

Nearly 24,300 new mainline passenger and freighter jetliners, valued at $2.8 trillion at list prices, will be needed by the end of 2026, according to manufacturer Airbus.
Image: Airbus A380
In its new Global Market Forecast, Airbus forecasts that airlines will require nearly 24,300 new mainline passenger and cargo jets in the next two decades. Airbus S.A.S
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Nearly 24,300 new mainline passenger and freighter jetliners, valued at $2.8 trillion at list prices, will be needed by the end of 2026, according to Europe-based commercial jet manufacturer Airbus.

In its latest Global Market Forecast, Airbus foresees a demand for 24,262 passenger airliners with 100 seats or more and freighter jets.

Additionally, the world's airlines will need more than 6,000 smaller regional airliners with 30 to 100 seats, with much of the demand coming from the United States and Europe, said Airbus.

According to the company's forecast, the world's fleet of mainline commercial jets will grow from just under 15,000 at the end of 2006 to nearly 33,000 by the end of 2026, and at the same time some 13,772 passenger and freighter aircraft from the existing fleet will be replaced by more eco-efficient models.

Airbus expects that by 2026 the average fuel burn of the world fleet will be 3 litres per 100 passenger kilometers, a level its A380 super-jumbo already achieves. On Feb. 1, an A380 became the first commercial jet to fly using an alternative fuel, which was made by converting natural gas to virtually sulfur-free jet fuel through the gas-to-liquid process.

Of the replaced aircraft, 4,412 will be recycled back into passenger service, where they also will replace older-generation models with other airlines, said Airbus. Another 2,901 will be converted to freighters, while the remaining 6,459 will be permanently retired or withdrawn from service. Increasing numbers of jets will be decommissioned using environmentally sensitive programs created by airliner manufacturers and others.

New jetliners will be delivered at an average annual rate of some 1,215 aircraft, up from the 1,130-aircraft average rate that Airbus predicted in its previous forecast.

Airbus expects passenger traffic to grow at an average rate of 4.9 percent per year, leading to a near threefold increase in traffic during the forecast period. Traffic will remain resilient to the cyclical effects of the industry. Part of the forecast traffic increase will be absorbed by higher load factors as well as use of bigger, more productive aircraft and increased service frequencies.

Passenger aircraft fleet to more than double
Even so, the world’s airlines will more than double their passenger aircraft fleets of 100 seats or more, from some 13,300 aircraft today to some 28,550 in 2026, according to the manufacturer. Together with a forecast replacement of close to 8,150 older passenger jets, this increase will mean a total of nearly 23,400 new passenger aircraft worth $2.6 trillion will be needed.

Air freight is forecast to grow even faster, with freight tonne kilometers — total metric tonnes of freight multiplied by the total number of kilometers they are flown — increasing annually by 5.8 per cent. Combined with fleet renewal, this will create demand for some 3,800 freighter deliveries. Nearly 900 of them, worth $200 billion, will be factory-built new jets, said Airbus.

In numerical terms, Airbus forecasts that 16,620, or 68 percent, of the new mainline aircraft required by 2026 will be single-aisle passenger jets and small jet freighters. Given Airbus' and Boeing's bulging orderbooks, many will be A320-family and 737-family aircraft. Due to their relatively small size, the $1.14 trillion total value of the single-aisle will represent only 40 percent of total new fleet value.

Need for 1,700 very large aircraft foreseen
Airbus foresees a demand for some 1,700 very large aircraft seating more than 400 passengers, such as the A380. The company values this demand at $527 billion, representing 19 percent of total value of passenger and freighter aircraft deliveries, but just 7 percent of total aircraft numbers.

Of these, nearly 1,300 will be passenger aircraft or 16 percent of the passenger market by value, with another 400 or so required for freighters able to transport over 120 tonnes of payload. By 2026, almost two thirds of all VLAs will serve today’s 32 mega hub cities. Asia-Pacific will be the dominant region for VLAs, requiring more than 700 passenger VLAs or 56 percent of world demand. Twelve of the top 20 large airports for VLA operations will be located in the region.

Demand for twin-aisle aircraft (seating from 250 to 400 passengers) will continue to grow strongly and some 6,000 new passenger and freighter aircraft will be delivered in the next two decades, according to Airbus.

Valued at $1.162 trillion, these aircraft will account for about 41 percent of total delivery value, but 25 percent of aircraft numbers. Demand in the 250-to-300-seat or small twin-aisle market will total more than 4,000 new aircraft, with another 2,000 larger intermediate twin aisle jets needed in the 350-and-400-seat category, said Airbus.

Airbus sees the greatest demand for passenger aircraft coming from the Asia-Pacific region, which will account for 31 percent of total world demand. North America will account for 27 percent and Europe 24 percent.

By country, the greatest demand for passenger aircraft will come from airlines in the U.S., the People's Republic of China and the United Kingdom, said Airbus.