Cirium: Air travel is taking off, but where do the planes come from?

Cirium: Air travel is taking off, but where do the planes come from?

According to the latest predictions from Cirium Ascend, an aviation consulting firm, global air traffic is expected to grow 14 percent in 2024 compared to a year earlier. This growth rate is expected to exceed 2019 figures by approximately six percent.

However, although global capacity has already exceeded 2019 figures, it is forecast to grow by only 12 percent per year. This is because although the global passenger fleet and utilization rate are constantly increasing, deliveries and production of new aircraft are facing significant challenges to create a positive trend.

Photo: London Heathrow Airport, Terminal 5A. Photo. Courtesy of BAA Airports Limited.

Cirium’s report suggests this trend will leave airlines with what they call a capacity crunch. It is expected to continue into the next decade, mainly due to restrictions on the delivery of new aircraft by major manufacturers Airbus and Boeing.

It is important to note that this capacity crunch poses a significant challenge for airlines as they try to meet the growing demand for air travel. This situation could also lead to higher ticket prices and reduced options for travelers in the coming years.

“The demand trajectory is still one of steady growth,” according to Rob Morris, global head of the consultancy. He said during the Cirium Ascend 2024 Market Outlook webinar last week that aircraft supply continues to grow at the moment.

However, headwinds from airframe manufacturing issues are expected to create a significant delay in deliveries for an extended period. “The supply is a slam dunk. It’s about delivery,” Morris said.

Morris said both Airbus and Boeing have continued to experience respective delivery difficulties to varying degrees. Consequently, new aircraft volumes will remain lower than previously anticipated.

For the desire of a bolt in the sky

Much of the slowdown in single-aisle deliveries can be traced to the backlog of Boeing’s 737 MAX family. As of December 2023, Boeing had over 6,200 orders for the airframe, of which only 1,400 have been delivered.

After deliveries were halted for nearly 20 months following two fatal crashes, the plane returned to service in 2020 and Boeing announced plans to ramp up production. However, some quality control problems were discovered before these increases could be launched into the aircraft manufacturers’ production processes.

Photo: The first Boeing 737 MAX 7. Courtesy of Boeing Commercial Airplanes

Recently, the explosion of a door plug aboard an Alaska Airlines 737 MAX 9 caused the grounding of that variant while the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) conducted inspections.

Preliminary findings of the subsequent National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) investigation revealed that the aircraft was delivered with four bolts missing from the plug.

Although the 737 MAX 9 has been cleared to return to service, the inspections revealed a pattern of manufacturing oversights that the agency and Boeing are now seeking to address. Instead of ramping up production on the 737 assembly lines, the FAA has limited Boeing’s production to 38 units per month until the processes reach regulatory approval.

Photo: Boeing’s Renton Factory, First 737 MAX. Courtesy of Boeing Commercial Airplanes

“Let me be clear: This is not going to be back to business as usual for Boeing,” FAA Administrator Mike Whitaker said in a statement. “We will not agree to any request from Boeing for a production expansion or approve additional production lines for the 737 Max until we are satisfied that the quality control issues discovered during this process have been resolved.”

Meanwhile, across the Atlantic

European manufacturer Airbus has come out on top in the single-aisle race, with orders for the popular A320neo airframe series reaching more than 10,000, of which nearly 3,200 have been delivered.

But Boeing’s rival hasn’t been without manufacturing headaches either. Airbus started 2023 with a disappointing drop in deliveries due to a supply chain shortfall, but this year started on a brighter note with a 50 percent increase in January.

However, according to reports this month in Reuters, Airbus recently warned its airline customers to expect more delivery delays on its product lines due to ongoing supply chain issues. Availability of engines and other critical components remains limited for the aircraft manufacturer.

Photo: Courtesy of easyJet

Morris notes that ongoing issues with the Pratt and Whitney power plants used in A320s, A220s and some Embraer aircraft “are leaving many airlines with fleet and capacity planning challenges that are likely to persist for at least three years and potentially longer”.

However, Airbus was able to beat its production targets in 2023, delivering a total of 735 aircraft, and Cirium Ascend is projecting that number will likely be over 820 units in 2024.

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