Max Kingsley-Jones/LONDON

Airbus Industrie's latest long range market forecast has maintained a bullish outlook for jet airliner demand over the next 20 years, despite the present Asian economic crisis, but its analysis has shifted towards greater demand for smaller aircraft compared to 1997 predictions, and reduced the size of the large aircraft market in which the A3XX is due to compete.

Although the numbers in the latest forecast are largely unchanged, the forecast of annual passenger traffic growth has been reduced slightly, from a rate of 5.2% to 5%.

The dip in traffic increases is the main driver behind the switch of emphasis towards smaller aircraft, says forecasting vice-president Adam Brown. Narrowbody numbers are up at the expense of the widebodies, with the forecast for aircraft above 400 seats, in which the A3XX will compete with new 747 derivatives, reduced by around 13%, from 1,442 to 1,259. As a result, demand in the 300-400 seat sector is up marginally by 122 units, to 2,440 aircraft.

Airbus keeps its estimate of annual delivery rates steady at 680 aircraft, predicting that it will capture half of that total early in the next decade. This sets a target to boost annual production to around 340 units, almost 50% more than the record 235 scheduled in 1998.

On current forecasts that should rise in 1999 to between 285 and 290, close to its theoretical ceiling.

"We are studying further production increases, particularly for the narrowbodies, but there is no final decision," says John Leahy, vice-president commercial. He concedes that existing demand, combined with the need to boost production, already means that Boeing is able to offer aircraft about a year earlier than Airbus.

Airbus is fairly optimistic that the Asian crisis will be just a short-term blip, and is using similar crises, such as the Mexican peso collapse in 1995, to develop forecast models. Leahy says that Airbus is less exposed than Boeing to cancellations by Asian airlines, but admits that "one or two" near-term orders have been rescheduled.

Source: Flight International