The global commercial aircraft fleet and the aircraft maintenance market will grow slower than previously expected over the next decade due to tepid economic growth, regulations, constrained production of new aircraft and a pilot shortage.

That is according consultancy Oliver Wyman, which predicts in a new report that the number of commercial aircraft worldwide will increase from 28,400 today to 36,400 in 2034, equating annual growth of 2.5% over ten years.

That expectation is down notably from the 2.9% estimated fleet expansion rate Oliver Wyman predicted in the 10-year forecast it released last year, and far less optimistic than the 3.9% decade-long annual growth rate the consultancy predicted prior to the Covid-19 pandemic.


Source: Pittsburgh International airport

The latest downward revision reflects “modest global economic growth – the product of high interest rates worldwide – and lower-than-anticipated aircraft production,” Oliver Wyman says. “This year holds its own set of challenges, from continued labour shortages and supply chain fragility to production constraints, slower economic growth” and sustainability-related regulations, particularly those in western Europe.

“Despite rising demand for air travel, a return of profitability and more new fuel-efficient aircraft, the fleet will experience slower growth than in the years before the pandemic,” the management consultancy adds.

The figures reflect significant troubles that cropped up in recent years within the aerospace production industry, including Pratt & Whitney’s recall, disclosed last year, of more than 1,000 PW1100G geared turbofans, which are one of two power options for Airbus A320neo-family aircraft. CFM International’s competing Leap turbofans have also suffered reliability issues.

At the same time, Boeing’s 737 Max production – which had been operating at depressed levels since the Covid-19 pandemic struck – slowed further in recent weeks after safety concerns arose following the in-flight blow out of a 737 Max 9’s door plug on 5 January. Meanwhile, aerospace suppliers up and down the chain are working to address supply and labour shortages.

Oliver Wyman also says “pilot shortages globally and especially in North America will remain a significant pressure on the industry throughout the forecast period”, estimating that the shortage will be most acute in 2026. It adds that global economic growth “is at its weakest since the early 1990s”.

By region, Oliver Wyman anticipates the Indian commercial aircraft fleet will increase fastest, at a 9.7% annual clip through 2034, followed by Eastern Europe at a 7% annual rate and China at 4.5%. The size of fleets in the Asia-Pacific region, (excluding China), Western Europe and North American will increase just 1-2% annually over the next decade, it predicts.

Despite the troubles, the global airline fleet last year finally largely returned to the pre-pandemic 2019 baseline, says Oliver Wyman. “The trend indicates aviation should return to real growth in 2024 over the former peaks, albeit constrained by slower global expansion, especially in China”.

The report accounts for narrowbody aircraft, widebody aircraft, regional jets and turboprops.

Oliver Wyman also expects spending on aircraft maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) services twill increase slower than it previously predicted – just 1.8% annually through 2034, down from last year’s 2.9% estimated annual ten-year growth prediction.

MRO spending this year in on track to finally surpass pre-Covid spending, the firm says.