Part of a satellite airport city predicated on growth at adjacent Doha airport in Qatar

One of the more vulnerable predictions about the future of air travel is that non-stop flights between Australia and Europe will see an end to the giant Middle East carriers, currently meaning Emirates, Etihad and Qatar Airways.

However a read of the Global Market Forecast for the Middle East just released by Airbus is a reminder that such a perspective totally misses ‘the plot’.

Whatever Qantas can ultimately do with more capable but as yet unavailable ultra long range jets (following on next year’s interim non-stops  in 787-9s between Perth-London) is clearly important in this market. Yet what is happening in the ME is radically expanding the importance of originating as well as connecting traffic in that part of the world to the Australian economy.

This particular 20 year rolling Airbus forecast, which on past performances, will be very similar to Boeing’s commercial forecasts when it reviews the same region, buries in the fine print some startling estimates of future demand.

It says 30 percent of the people in emerging markets such as India, China and some countries in ASEAN take a least one trip by air on average and by 2036 this will grow to just over 80 percent. 

At present, Airbus says, there are 58 aviation mega-cities across the globe, accounting for more than a million daily long-haul passengers. By 2036, there will be 95 mega-cities, catering to 98 percent of the world’s long-haul services. The five mega cities existing today in the Middle East will more than double to eleven over the next 20 years.

It isn’t really clear if the forecast means four in five people in some rapidly improving economies will fly somewhere in the same year, since this implies the skies over earth will go dark with jets and cause a global ice age, but allowing for something to have gone missing from what is currently on the Airbus web site, there is no doubting the underlying message.

There is going to be a huge amount of new demand for air travel in parts of the world that are taking their place in the sun. The ME might seem like a place to fly over to those who don’t fully grasp what is happening, but in its own right, it will generate more wealth and activity than might seem apparent in these troubled early 21st century times.

In terms of actual airliners, Airbus estimates that between now and the end of 2036 the ME will need 2,590 new aircraft for replacement of 520 older generation aircraft, and 2,070 aircraft for growth, with 730 expected to remain in service over the period.

The current orders from Middle East-based carriers stand at 1,319 aircraft, of which 687 are single-aisle, 409 twin-aisle and 162 very large aircraft.

(This is inconsistent with known orders for Boeing 777Xs if they are categorised as slightly less in stature than VLAs, even though they are the highest capacity twin engined jets yet being developed. Keep in mind, there are A330s and 777s out there today with more seats than might be found in some more luxuriously appointed A380s.)

A problem with Airbus and Boeing forecasts so far out is that they are framed within the constraints of currently built or under development designs. By the end of their forecast periods those constraints will have been replaced or challenged in the market by airliners we can’t even imagine without knowing what happens to fuel, engine and materials technology.

Airbus predicts passenger traffic to from and within the Middle East will grow 5.9 percent annually until 2036, well above the global average of 4.4 percent. That’s ‘to-and-from’, not ‘over.’

Conclusion: The ME is going to be big. Even Bigger than Just Very Big. Flying ‘over’ it is likely to end up being very ‘niche’.

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