Asia-Pacific is becoming the world's biggest air transport market and the recent boom of low-cost carriers in the region heralds a structural shift that will see single-aisle sales mushroom in this predominantly widebody territory.

So say Airbus and Boeing, who foresee a surge in narrowbody business in parallel with continuing strength in widebody sales. In Airbus's recent annual global market forecast update, a total of 1,000 more aircraft were listed on the 20-year-demand projections. Almost all of those will be operating within or out of the Pacific Rim. Airbus believes about 10,000 additional aircraft will be needed here to cope with an annual increase in demand of close to 6%. Of those 10,000 units, around 800 will be in the very large aircraft (A380) category, says John Leahy, Airbus's chief salesman.

However, it is the low-cost carriers (LCCs) that will drive up unit demand. Airbus's figures indicate that their market share in terms of seat capacity was only 2% in 2003, but is now at 25% and as much as 58% in Southeast Asia. Leahy sees it cresting 70% in the next few years. The case of VietJetAir illustrates this well. While the presence of relatively long-established carriers such as Air Asia, Tiger and Jetstar shows the LCC phenomenon is not new to the region, the concept is spreading to the mostly untouched submarkets.

Vietnam's air transport market has been dominated by national carrier Vietnam Airlines, but given the country's rapid economic development, that is changing fast. VietJetAir placed an order for up to 100 Airbus A320s. The contract includes firm orders for 63 aircraft and 30 purchase rights. An additional seven aircraft will be leased. The order breaks down to 42 A320neos, 14 A320ceos and seven A321ceos. The carrier is Vietnam's first private operator, and although it only started flying in 2011 and operates a fleet of 11 leased A320s, its 20 routes include domestic destinations as well as Bangkok and Seoul.

Airbus also plans to invest more in industrial partnerships in the region. The final assembly line in Tianjin, China, has delivered around 150 A320s since 2008. The manufacturer says it will extend this cooperation for a long time and will transition to A320neo assembly. Negotiations are ongoing to extend the contract for almost two years and, Airbus says, future work could encompass more than narrowbodies. Airbus is understood to be offering an A330 completion center under the assumption that China's airlines will order large amounts of the type over the coming years.

Boeing's lastest market forecast sees the Asia-Pacific commercial fleet nearly tripling in size to 14,750 in 2032, of which 12,820 will be new aircraft. Of these, Boeing Commercial Airplanes Marketing Vice President Randy Tinseth says, about 8,810 are expected to be single-aisle while widebodies, ranging in scale from the A350 and 787 to A380 and Boeing 747-8s, will account for up to 3,590 units. “When we look at the Asia-Pacific market this is by far the largest—bar none. It's a 13,000 aircraft market worth close to $2 trillion.”

Of the 12,820 new aircraft predicted for Asia-Pacific, 75% will be for growth and 25% for replacement, with around 1,930 of today's fleet expected to be retained. Ten years ago there were no LCCs in China, and today they provide 10% of the available seat kilometers. By 2032 they will double their share,” Tinseth predicts.