The world's civil aircraft fleet continues to expand as deliveries boom and older airliners are kept in employment

Max Kingsley-Jones/LONDON

Data/Airclaims and Paul Duffy

The fleet of Western built commercial aircraft in service with the world's airlines has grown by around 1,000 units, or 5% since Flight International's last census a year ago.

With the market booming, the world's jet manufacturers have been producing aircraft at record levels - Airbus and Boeing delivered 870 aircraft last year while the regional jet manufacturers have underlined their dominance at the small end of the market, completing 280 shipments between them.

There have been relatively few retirements (just 270 jets in the last 18 months) as new employment is found for the ageing airliner fleet. These factors have ensured that the in-service fleet is steadily increasing.

The continued operation of older early generation jets is looking less attractive, however, as fuel prices have increased and certification authorities are demanding modifications to keep the aircraft safe and compliant with the latest air navigation technology. The increasing levels of investment to keep these aircraft from becoming obsolete, combined with the increasing availability of older modern technology aircraft, could soon make their economics unworkable and large scale retirements could follow from passenger and cargo sectors.

An analysis of the data compiled from the Airclaims CASE database on Western built jets and turboprops shows that the airlines of North and South America continue to operate well over half of the world's airliners - 10,100 aircraft (see pie chart 1). Europe is a distant second with 5,140 aircraft - the equivalent to a quarter of the world's fleet.

These two markets are effectively "mature", and it is Asia, Australasia and the Middle East - the sector ranked third - that will see the largest growth in coming years. The region is already recovering from the recent downturn, with airlines throughout Asia preparing major fleet renewal and expansion moves.

Unsurprisingly, Boeing's ubiquitous 737 family dominates the aircraft type rankings (see table 1). For the purposes of this census the 737 fleet is broken into its three components - the original Pratt & Whitney JT8D-powered 737-100/200, the first generation CFM International CFM56-powered 737 "Classic" and the Next Generation models.

Individually, all three versions make the top 10, with the 737 Classic's tally of 1,945 aircraft ranking it first. Taken as a whole, the 737 fleet amounts to 4,602 aircraft - dwarfing the second placed Airbus A320 family at 1,264 units.

Work For Airbus

Although the successful A320 family fleet is the second largest in service, it is the only representative of the European consortium in the top 10, which is dominated by Boeing types. The US manufacturer's dominance is illustrated in pie chart 2, showing how much work lies ahead for Airbus if it is to gain a convincing share of the "installed" fleet.

Propeller driven airliners hold the top five places in the regional rankings, with the ATR 42/72 family heading the bunch (see table 2). Bombardier's CRJ, which pioneered the small regional jet (RJ) concept 10 years ago, is the first of the jets. However, with the airlines' demand for RJs almost insatiable, and turboprop output declining, there will be a significant shift in the balance of power within this sector over the next few years.

The success of the Bombardier product line has pushed it into third place in fleet terms, just ahead of the BAE Systems-supported fleet (see table 3). With output of the CRJ increasing all the time, the Canadian group is well established as the world's number three producer of airliners after the "big two" large aircraft builders - Boeing and Airbus. This is also evident by the regional order backlog rankings, where it holds 45% of the total (see table 4).

2,450 large aircraft (those with over 100 seats) are on firm backlog by the world's airlines (excluding unplaced orders from leasing companies). The split between Airbus and Boeing is about equal, but it is the North/South American airlines that head the share by regions with over half the aircraft on order (see pie chart 3).

The recent downturn has affected the tally of the Asia, Australasia and the Middle East sector, which accounts for just 15% of the total and almost 50% less than second placed Europe. As the region begins to bounce back this share is expected to grow significantly.

Regional Dominance

North and South America dominates the regional sector, with over 60% of the total of 1,250 aircraft on order (see pie chart 4). Europe again ranks second with Asia, Australasia and the Middle East third. Although the Asian sector has not been a traditional market for regional aircraft, the potential for growth in immature markets such as China is huge.

While information on the Western world's fleet is readily available, this is not true for the airlines of Russia and the former Soviet bloc, where civil aviation is still regarded as a state secret. According to data compiled for Flight International by Russian aviation specialist Paul Duffy, the fleet of Russian designed aircraft in airline service totals 3,300 units, and only 60 more are on order. However, while large numbers of these aircraft remain on CIS airlines' "books", the status of many of these fleets is not clear and some older types in storage may never fly again. It is, therefore, hard to get a genuine picture of the true "active" fleet. Duffy believes that only around 40% of the fleet is in active service at any time.

Russian airlines are in a Catch 22 situation - they desperately need new aircraft to replace their ageing fleets, and there are a number of new Russian designed airliner models available to fulfil their needs. The airlines, however, lack the finance to fund new orders, and the manufacturers need cash to gear up production and boost output to economically viable levels.

Moves are underway by the Russian government to resolve these problems and help resurrect the region's once mighty airliner manufacturing industry. Russian banks are beginning to look at funding new aircraft deals. Western style "power by the hour" lease agreements are also being developed by manufacturers and overhaul companies. Only time will tell whether these measures will be sufficient to ensure the long term revival of the industry.

Notes: The data in this census cover all commercial jet and turboprop-powered transport aircraft in service or on firm order with the world's airlines, excluding aircraft which carry under 18 passengers or the equivalent in cargo.

The tables are divided into two sections, with the first listing, compiled from the Airclaims CASE database, recording the fleets of the Western-built airliners. The second section records the fleets of Russian/CIS built types. The information in the census is correct to the beginning of August and excludes non-airline operators, such as leasing companies.

Aircraft are listed by region in alphabetical order by manufacturer, then by operator, with those on outstanding firm order shown in parentheses. The in-production former MDC types are listed under Boeing.

The region is dictated by the base of the operator, and does not necessarily indicate the area of operation. Options and letters of intent (where a firm contract has not been signed) are not included (except for the Airbus A3XX and Tupolev Tu-334 where no firm orders have yet been placed). Orders by, and aircraft with, leasing companies are excluded, unless a confirmed end user is known - in which case the aircraft is shown against the airline concerned. Aircraft known to be parked or in storage are included. Operators' fleets include leased aircraft.

Technical data for most of the aircraft types listed can be found in the two-part Flight International Commercial Aircraft directory (Flight International, 25-31 August and 1-7 September 1999).

Source: Flight International