Boeing: Demand for planes in steady climb

Boeing expects the Asian market to account for the most airplane deliveries through 2034. A crew took this 787-9 made for Vietnam Airlines for a practice flight Thursday to prepare for a flying demonstration at the Paris Air Show next week.

Boeing would have to build 8,290 Dreamliners over the next 20 years to meet the worldwide demand for small- to medium-size wide-body jets, the company said Thursday as it released a long-range forecast for its commercial airplane division.

Dreamliners, which are made at Boeing’s North Charleston campus and in Everett, Wash., could account for about 22 percent of airlines’ global aircraft demands through 2034 — a nearly $2.5 trillion investment, according to Randy Tinseth, vice president of marketing for commercial airplanes.

All told, Boeing predicts a 4 percent annual growth in airline passengers over the next 20 years that, combined with the need to replace aging planes, will result in the demand for 38,050 new aircraft worth $5.6 trillion.

“The commercial airplane market continues to be strong and resilient,” Tinseth said, adding that it has “exceeded our expectations over the past couple of years.”

“As we look forward, we expect the market to continue to grow and the demand for new aircraft to be robust,” he said.

Boeing and its competitor, France-based Airbus, have seen growing production backlogs for all planes as fleet sizes are expected to more than double at carriers worldwide.

The biggest demand — at about 70 percent overall — will be for single-aisle planes, such as the Airbus A320 and Boeing’s next-generation 737 and future 737-MAX, which is scheduled to debut in 2017. Boeing forecasts the need for 26,730 new single-aisle jets over the next two decades, fueled by growth in low-cost carriers and airlines in developing and emerging markets.

Tinseth said airline customers want “more flights to more places” rather than longer routes.

“Passengers want more frequent nonstop service, which is what the airlines are providing,” he said.

Boeing and Airbus are in a tight battle for dominance in the wide-body market. Boeing has notched 1,105 orders for its Dreamliner models through May, while Airbus has had 780 orders for its comparable A350 series.

Asian markets will account for most airplane deliveries through 2034, with 14,330 new airplanes, Tinseth said. North America will be the second-largest market, with the need for 7,890 commercial planes.

Boeing currently has a backlog of 5,715 aircraft worth $435 billion, Tinseth said. That backlog includes 838 Dreamliners for 60 customers. Airbus said its backlog totals 6,368 planes, but did not provide a dollar figure.

Boeing’s latest forecast for airplane demand over the next 20 years is 3.5 percent higher than last year’s report, although Tinseth said passenger miles will grow at 4.9 percent annually — slightly lower than the 5 percent historical trend. The percentage still will outpace global gross domestic product growth, which Boeing projects at 3.1 percent annually.

Meeting the forecast demand could be difficult because infrastructure might not keep up with aircraft production, according to a report by PricewaterhouseCoopers. The audit and consulting services group said insufficient funding, concerns over environmental impact, airport congestion and the need to hire 2.7 million new aviation industry employees, including skilled pilot and mechanics, over the next decade could impede worldwide growth.

Richard Aboulafia, an analyst at Teal Group, told The Financial Times that he’s skeptical demand will match Boeing’s predictions. He told the newspaper that it is unlikely that the recent years’ mix of strong growth in traffic demand, low interest rates and high fuel prices — which encourage the purchase of more efficient aircraft — would persist.

“It’s a mixture of optimism and hubris,” Aboulafia said of Boeing’s forecast.

Reach David Wren at 937-5550 or on Twitter at @David_Wren_