Cautious optimism for future large commercial transport market


Forecast International is projecting that approximately 26 975 large commercial jet transports will be produced in the 15 years from 2020 through 2034. The value of this production is estimated at $4.39 trillion in constant 2020 US dollars.

The Connecticut-based market forecasting firm’s projections indicate an 11.8 percent drop in the 15-year forecast compared to last year’s long-range projections. The lengthy grounding of the Boeing 737 MAX aircraft, combined with the COVID-19 pandemic’s devastating impact on worldwide air travel, is taking a serious toll on large commercial aircraft production.

Indeed, the forecast of 705 aircraft for 2020 represents a nearly 55 percent drop from the 1 562 large commercial transports that the world’s manufacturers produced in 2019.

Forecast International projects that a gradual, though steady, market recovery will get underway after 2020. Nevertheless, the company anticipates that it will take at least until 2023 for annual production to come even close to matching the level of production seen in 2019. Annual production is expected to continue to grow through 2029, reaching a total of 2 134 aircraft for that year, Forecast International said.

The large commercial transport market will remain a duopoly through the 15-year forecast timeframe, with Airbus and Boeing projected to garner the lion’s share of the market. Airbus is forecast to produce 13 240 large commercial airliners during the 2020-2034 timeframe, for a 49 percent share of the market. Boeing is projected to build 12 429 aircraft, for a market share of 46 percent. The remainder of the forecast production consists of aircraft such as the COMAC C919 from China and Russia’s Irkut MC-21.

In terms of value of production, the reverse is true, with Boeing capturing 50.7 percent of the market to an Airbus share of 46.4 percent ($2.23 trillion and $2.04 trillion, respectively). UAC and COMAC will garner the remaining 2.9 percent ($123.7 billion).

The COVID-19 crisis generated shock waves felt throughout the global economy, and especially so in the airline industry. In the spring of 2020, air passenger traffic ground almost to a halt as a result of quarantines, lockdowns, restrictions on international travel, and medical concerns. The world’s airlines parked huge numbers of aircraft. The air cargo sector held up somewhat better but still suffered as the global economy tumbled into recession.

Depending on the geographic region, the medical crisis has eased somewhat since then, and economic activity has picked up a bit. Airlines have begun taking aircraft out of storage and returning them to active service. A lot of pent-up demand exists in many sectors of the economy, and conditions could start to improve more quickly as restrictions on business and social interactions are lifted further.

As for the airline industry, air cargo would likely see the fastest recovery, followed by business travel and, perhaps somewhat belatedly, recreational and leisure travel. Still, on a global basis, air traffic is unlikely to return to pre-COVID-19 levels until at least the 2023-2024 timeframe, Forecast International said.