Narrowbodies To Lead European Fleet Renewal Push

Icelandair 737 MAX
Credit: Boeing

LONDON—Boeing is predicting European aircraft demand will be driven by narrowbody renewals over the next 20 years, estimating the region will require 8,705 new commercial aircraft by 2040.

Detailing its latest commercial market outlook on Sept. 21, Boeing forecast that Europe will post 3.1% annual traffic growth from 2019 levels over the period to 2040, with long-haul demand returning to pre-pandemic levels by 2023 to 2024.

Over that same time frame, the European aircraft fleet over 90 seats will grow by 2.7%, with around 700 older aircraft being replaced by more fuel-efficient variants in the near-term. 

“We just see an acceleration,” Boeing VP commercial marketing Darren Hulst told media at a press conference in London. “Aircraft that would have been replaced, maybe mid-decade, are being pulled forward to being replaced near term, especially the ones that are the least efficient, or maybe less versatile, in the fleet. However, longer term we don’t see a material change in the lives of aircraft.”

Breaking down the total projected requirement for 8,705 European aircraft, Boeing said 7,100 will be single aisles and 1,545 will be widebodies (plus 60 regional jets). Of these, 55% will be replacement aircraft and 45% will be used for growth.

LCCs will dominate European narrowbody demand, as they now account for more than 50% of intra-European capacity, operating more point-to-point flights than their U.S. counterparts.

“For short-haul routes, European airlines are expected to further invest in new, higher-capacity single-aisle models that reduce fuel use and emissions,” Boeing said. “For long-haul fleets, airlines are projected to leverage new-generation widebodies, such as the 787 and 777X, that significantly improve efficiency. By 2040, 90% of Europe’s current fleet will be replaced with more fuel-efficient models, outpacing the global replacement share of 80%.”

According to Boeing, Europe accounts for around 20% of global aircraft demand.

Boeing estimates that 72% of intra-European traffic was restored to 2019 levels by July 2021, compared with 42% for long-haul. However, by the 2021 third quarter, European GDP is expected to be back at the same level as 2019.

“Our near- and medium-term view on the recovery of air travel largely hasn’t changed over the last year,” Hulst said.

The one near-term change is that domestic travel is recovering slightly faster than expected, while international is coming back slightly more slowly. This has been driven by travel restrictions, rather than a lack of demand.

“Domestic markets should be back to pre-virus levels, in most cases, by the middle of next year. While long-haul travel, in many cases, won’t be back to pre-virus levels until the middle of the decade,” Hulst said.

Like many others, Boeing believes that leisure travel will lead the recovery, although fundamental travel drivers remain unchanged. Business travel will take a little longer to come back.

“Before the pandemic, premium economy was having some success in some markets,” Hulst said. “I think, going forward, we see more probably bifurcation in the leisure market, where you have high-end leisure, medium- and low-end, and airlines are going to adapt to that. That’s how they’ll fill the square footage, or the square meters, in their cabins.” 

This latest forecast also predicts a need for 405,000 new aviation personnel in Europe by 2040, including pilots, technicians and cabin crew.

Victoria Moores

Victoria Moores joined Air Transport World as our London-based European Editor/Bureau Chief on 18 June 2012. Victoria has nearly 20 years’ aviation industry experience, spanning airline ground operations, analytical, journalism and communications roles.