Kevin O'Toole/LONDON

The still unfolding economic crisis in Asia has had a big impact on Boeing's latest long-term aircraft forecasts, with predictions that the regional downturn will cost 150 aircraft orders over the next five years.

Prospects for the launch of a high-capacity aircraft above the 747-400 have also been pushed back, with a viable market not expected to materialise within the next 10 years.

Although the 20-year prediction for aircraft demand remains little changed, substantial cuts have been made to the shorter-term outlook for Asia. Boeing estimates that the airline industry will now need 100 fewer widebodies and 50 fewer narrowbodies over the next five years because of the crisis. The cuts still leave deliveries running at a highest-ever 800 a year.

The revision is based on a trimming in passenger traffic growth in Asia. Boeing has shaved 2.5 points off its five-year growth projections for traffic in the region and 1 to 1.5 points from intercontinental services, although both figures remain above the world average.

Boeing admits that publication of the forecasts - originally scheduled for March - was delayed by two months as the Asian crisis deepened. "Originally, the scenario looked as though the Asian economies would rebound, but, because of what's happening out there, we've had to make a revision," says Bruce Dennis, vice-president of marketing.

The assumption now is that the worst-hit Asian economies will fall into recession over the next 12-18 months, but will return to their historic trend "four to five years from now", says Dennis. He warns, however, that, if recession starts to spread out of the region, "-then all bets are off".

Tim Meskill, responsible for compiling the Boeing Current Market Outlook, admits that, since the forecast was made, there has been further bad news from the region, with Japan officially entering recession and a recent rash of lease returns from South-East Asia.

Meskill says that Boeing is not yet predicting cancellations in the market as a whole, but will closely monitor indicators in the second half of this year for signs that the business cycle has passed its peak.

The downturn in Asia has also added to Boeing's doubts over the viability of the large aircraft market, still being pursued by rival Airbus Industrie with the A3XX. The whole market forecast for larger aircraft, including the 747 and above, has been trimmed by 152 units over the next 20 years, with Boeing repeatedly returning to its theme that a drive to increase frequency will concentrate growth on the 230-400-seat segment.

Potential demand for an A3XX-sized aircraft is pegged at only 80 units over the next 10 years. That is expected to grow to 345 units in the following decade, but Meskill says that the numbers look unlikely to support the economics of launching a $10 billion programme for at least a further 10 years.

Source: Flight International