It is hard to overstate the contribution that the Gulf's carriers make to Airbus and Boeing's current and future business. Between them, Emirates, Etihad and Qatar Airways hold firm orders for over 440 airliners worth almost $110 billion (see table). And more than 90% of that backlog is widebody aircraft (see pie chart).

Using data compiled by Flightglobal Insight from the ACAS database, the order backlog of these three global network carriers alone represents a tenth of the all the orders on Airbus and Boeing's books by value at current list prices. If narrowbody types are excluded, the three airlines' share of the order backlog value rises to almost 20%.

These figures take account of Emirates' recent $11.5 billion "top-up order" for 32 more A380s, and few would bet against additional orders being signed by some or all of the Gulf's prolific airline gaggle at the Farnborough air show in July.

Emirates A380
 © H. Gousse/Airbus
Emirates' recent giant order for Airbus's superjumbo emphasises the contribution made by the Gulf's carriers to Airbus and Boeing

But it is not just in future orders that the region makes a significant contribution. Although in 2009, just 10% of the 980 deliveries went to Middle East carriers, almost half of these were the higher-priced widebody types, inflating the region's share by value to 15%. When widebody deliveries alone are examined, the region accounted for over a fifth of all 2009 deliveries worth $11.1billion, equivalent to almost a quarter to of all twin-aisle shipments by value.

Significantly, the region proved extremely robust to the global slump of 2008-09 and accelerated deliveries by taking reallocated production slots from airlines in areas badly affected, such as the USA.

Gulf network carriers - firm order backlog

That is not to say that the Gulf was immune to the downturn. The airlines have been hit by falling yields and have had to tighten up their cost bases and slow recruitment.

Emirates boss Tim Clark conceded in an interview with Flight International last year that as global passenger traffic in the downturn it was unclear how far yields would tumble and fleet planning took a bit of a leap of faith in the absence of any firm economic data, saying it was "like navigating a nuclear submarine in the dark without any aids".

Clark added that he was conscious as he looked at fleet expansion in light of the slowdown that any sudden changes by Emirates or its neighbours with their huge delivery commitments could have had been "Armageddon" for the industry.

2009 widebody deliveries by value

"We couldn't go out to Airbus and Boeing saying we don't want the aircraft sitting on the ramp in Toulouse and Seattle - we'd push half the aerospace industry out of work. We had a legal - almost moral - obligation to the supply chain to continue what we were doing."


Source: Flight International