Airbus: Asia to account for third of jet market

HONG KONG — Asia's rapidly growing middle classes will drive demand for new airplanes over the next 20 years and help the region overtake North America and Europe as the world's biggest air transport market, Airbus said Monday.

The European plane maker forecasts that the Asia Pacific area will account for a third of global passenger aircraft deliveries over the next two decades, up from about a quarter in the previous 20 years.

Some 8,560 new passenger jets worth $1.2 trillion will be delivered in Asia by 2029, Airbus said. That number includes 3,360 large double-aisle aircraft, including superjumbo models such as the A380, as well as 5,200 smaller, single-aisle jets. About 25,850 new jets are forecast to be delivered worldwide in the same period.

The growth of megacities in Asia will require more large planes to service routes between those hubs, said Christopher Emerson, Airbus' senior vice president for product strategy and market forecast.

Smaller jets will also be needed to fill demand from increasingly popular budget airlines, as well as new short-haul routes.

"If you look at the main drivers of tomorrow's traffic — so for the next 20 years — in Asia (it's) more people able and wanting to fly every day," Emerson said.

Airlines will also be looking to replace older, gas-guzzling planes, he said. About 3,680 aircraft are currently in service in Asia, and Airbus expects about 78 percent of those will be replaced.

Airbus is aiming to maintain its global market share of about 50 percent, although that task is growing harder with increased competition from the likes of Canada's Bombardier, Brazil's Embraer and China's state-owned Commercial Aircraft Corporation of China, or Comac, Emerson said.

Asian airlines will see passenger numbers grow by 5.8 percent a year while cargo traffic will rise 7 percent annually, Airbus said. Both numbers are above the global average.

Airbus's forecast follows a optimistic outlook last month by airline group IATA, which said that global airline travel will surge, with China being the fastest growing market for international passengers.

The International Air Transport Association said in February that Asia will likely account for 45 percent of the 800 million increase in air travelers that is expected between 2009 and 2014.

Comac has forecast that China will purchase 4,439 planes worth more than $456 billion by 2029, underscoring arguments that China's aircraft market is big enough to welcome new competitors.