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Charting the Trends: Asia-Pacific aircraft orderbook is rising; region set to become world's largest

Analysis

They say 'a picture paints a thousand words'.

In this regular report CAPA - Centre for Aviation provides an insight on latest industry trends, using data from its extensive databases.

Looking at latest capacity trends, fleet changes, interior innovations or latest airline and airport developments, the 'Charting Trends' report will offer a weekly observation on air travel.

This week we focus on the growing Asia-Pacific aircraft order book.

The Singapore Airshow in 2024 brought new aircraft orders from, among others, Thai Airways, VietJet Air, Royal Brunei Airlines, STARLUX Airlines, Tibet Airlines and Maldivian Aero. And it has further highlighted the continued recovery and anticipated future growth of the aviation sector across the Asia-Pacific region.

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) estimates that over the next 20 years the global industry will grow at about 3.3% per annum - a positive growth, given the early 2020s dip, but still significantly lower than that witnessed during 2010 to 2019.

However, IATA projects that the Asia-Pacific region will perform above the global average, with a growth of around 4.5% per annum during that same period. The rise of Asia-Pacific aviation is clear to see in IATA's data.

In 1990 Asia-Pacific airlines contributed 19.7% of global aviation, but by 2019 that had almost doubled, to almost 35%.

A slower recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic (86% of 2019 levels in 2023 versus 94% on a global scale) means that figure slipped to 32% in 2023, but will certainly build back share in the coming years.

As CAPA - Centre for Aviation highlighted in the recent 'Asia-Pacific airlines continue order momentum' two-part report, after pruning out older aircraft during the COVID-19 pandemic period, many Asia-Pacific airlines are placing large orders to rebuild their fleets with the new-generation models that will form their operational backbone for many years to come.

These moves ramped up in 2023, with several airlines in the region signing major aircraft deals.

Already this year new orders have been confirmed for EVA Air and Akasa Air; and the Singapore Airshow commitments further highlight this trend, with more still expected to come in 2024, as multiple airlines are preparing to place widebody and narrowbody orders.

A primary driver is fleet renewal, but some airlines are also looking to grow, or to shift focus to take advantage of opportunities they can see in a changed industry environment. And a few start-up airlines have ambitious plans to ramp up their fleets quickly to challenge incumbents.

The latest Asia-Pacific order activity follows some lean years during the COVID-19 pandemic and its immediate aftermath. Total orders in the region in 2024 may not match the 2023 numbers, due to the big Indian orders placed in 2023, but 2024 will still be a continuation of the same post-pandemic fleet investment surge.

This has helped swell the Asia-Pacific order book, as the sheer volume of orders has outpaced deliveries (delivery delays for some aircraft types have also played a small role in inflating the backlog).

A look at the CAPA - Centre for Aviation Fleet Database, and the global order book on 21-Feb for the past few years, shows declining numbers of aircraft on order for airlines across Asia-Pacific between 2018 and 2022 - but then, subsequently, a spike in 2023.

The region's share of the global order book has risen above 40%, as at this date in both 2023 and 2024.

Global aircraft on order, 2008-2024, as at 21-Feb-2024

The significant orders of 2023 and 2024 will result in increasing numbers of aircraft delivered to airlines across Asia-Pacific. While many of these are for fleet renewal, they will also provide opportunities for growth.

In 2018 the Asia-Pacific global fleet in service on 21-Feb was second only to North America, at 9,653 aircraft versus 10,003 aircraft.

That gap shortened in 2020, just as COVID-19 hit, before widening through the COVID pandemic.

As the chart below illustrates, that gap has subsequently shrunk again, to less than 350 aircraft, as the Asia-Pacific operating fleet has now exceeded 10,000 aircraft.

Global aircraft in service, 2008-2024, as at 21-Feb-2024

The volume of aircraft orders by Asia-Pacific airlines in 2023, and now in 2024, has provided a strong indicator that the industry has moved its focus firmly back to investment and fleet refresh after the financial challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic years.

This week's report has been produced using data available to CAPA - Centre for Aviation members. The charts are taken from the CAPA - Centre for Aviation Fleet Database using the yearly global fleet by region tool - available to all CAPA members, and a resource where users can customise search parameters via a variety of metrics.

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