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Boeing and Airbus diverge on long-term China market expectation

PARIS — China’s going to be huge for global demand of air travel over the next two decades —  that much Airbus and Boeing agree upon. However, the U.S. and European plane makers increasingly disagree over just how big the demand for new airplanes will be.

With its Global Market Forecast, Airbus said it expects China to need 9,440 new aircraft between now and 2042, 23% of its total expectation. That marked a major increase of 12% over its expectation a year ago, after it shifted key assumptions around the retirement demand and an increasing aversion to keeping secondhand aircraft inside the country.

Related: Airbus grows China forecast as policy shifts to export secondhand jets

Boeing, on the other hand, sees the market to be notably smaller than does Airbus. The U.S. airframer, which formally unveiled its own annual Current Market Outlook on June 18, anticipates China needing 8,560 regional, single-aisle, widebody and freighter aircraft over the same 20-year period.

The dynamics in 2023 represent significantly different trajectories. Airbus is expanding its industrial footprint inside China, while Boeing is trying to thread the geopolitical needle of deteriorating U.S.-China relations.

The China numbers are enormous (despite some serious strategic doubt about their validity) and amount to 20% of the total 42,595 aircraft Boeing expects the world to need. Airbus, notably, doesn’t forecast regional aircraft demand and the plane makers are within 65 aircraft of one another globally when subtracting regionals. Yet the difference between Boeing and Airbus estimates (1,230 aircraft) on China effectively represents the size of the entire need across all of Africa over the next two decades.

Related: A different way to think about the future of flying in China

Darren Hulst, Boeing vice president for commercial marketing, said that while the company’s figure was slightly higher than last year’s 20-year estimate, “we didn’t see a dynamic that would dramatically change our outlook from last year to this year, you know, the fundamentals that have driven China haven’t changed in terms of economic activity, in terms of growth.”

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