The latest census of airliners illustrates the impact that 11 September has had on the industry's hardware

The tragic events 12 months ago threw the world's fleet of Western-built jet airliners into turmoil - as aircraft groundings hit a record high, the size of the active fleet plummeted and has only just recovered to pre-11 September levels.

Unsurprisingly, the growth of the Western-built jet and turboprop fleet has been extremely small over the past year, increasing by just 2% to 20,640 units (including stored aircraft). Of the total airline operated fleet, around 15,700 are jets and 4,900 are turboprops.

According to the Airclaims CASE database, 12 months ago the inactive fleet of Western-built jets totalled 1,200 aircraft - around 8% of the total civil jet airliner fleet. When business plummeted after 11 September, the US desert storage sites began to bulge and the inactive fleet almost doubled, spiralling to over 2,200 aircraft. According to Airclaims CASE, over 230 jets were permanently retired during the past year.

The net effect of this was that despite the output of jet manufacturers (including regional jets) in the last five months of last year totalling over 400 units, the size of the active fleet tumbled by 3%, to less than 14,200 aircraft. By April this year the active fleet was expanding again while the idle fleet had begun to decline. Only now is the size of the active fleet back above that of a year ago. These figures include aircraft with operators other than airlines (such as leasing companies), and so the totals are greater than those in the census.

Predictably, the bulk of the cutbacks has been in North America, with the older generation hushkitted narrowbody types such as the Boeing 727, 737-200 and McDonnell Douglas DC-9 bearing the brunt of the withdrawals. These types dominate the idle fleet, accounting for almost 50% of the total. The number of 727s, 737-200s and DC-9s flying with US airlines has almost halved in the past year, from 800 aircraft to less than 450.

Although now parked, many of these aircraft are still on the airlines' books and therefore appear in this year's census, as it includes inactive aircraft that have not been permanently retired. The omens are not good for an eventual return to the skies for these 20- to 30-year-old aircraft.

The airliner fleet pie chart shows the breakdown of the world's Western-built jet and turboprop fleet by the regions of the census, illustrating that North and South American operated airliners make up half of the total worldwide. Europe is the next largest sector with a quarter of the fleet, while Asian, Australasian and Middle Eastern airlines have just under a fifth. African airlines account for 5% of the total.

The order backlog, which is illustrated in the airliner backlog pie chart, has declined 15% since the last census was published in October last year. Predictably, the North/South American share, which is the largest single total, has fallen dramatically. The 1,647 unit total is down 20% on the figure for last October, but airlines in this region still hold over half of all orders.

The European order backlog has dropped 8%, and the African is up slightly, with the tally for Asian, Australasian and Middle Eastern airlines at a similar level to the last census.

The bar chart below shows the geographic breakdown of the 1,975 airliners on order with Airbus and Boeing. This tally has fallen 8% since last year's census, and the split is more even than ever, with one order separating the two rivals' totals. Boeing has the lead in North/South America, while Airbus is ahead in Europe and Africa. The US manufacturer holds a slight advantage in Asia, Australasia and the Middle East.

Table 4 shows that Boeing types (including McDonnell Douglas models) dominate the installed fleet ranking with over half the total. However, Boeing's tally is stalled and its share declining, while the fleet of rival Airbus grew 9%.

Next up are the two premier regional manufacturers - Bombardier and Embraer - who have gained market share as the fleets of their predecessors - BAE Systems and Fokker - both declined.

The ubiquitous 737 Classic (-300/400/500) continues to lead the type rankings, but its fleet size is declining, setting up the second placed Airbus A320 family to take the helm soon. The 737 Classic's successor, the -600 to -900 family, has risen three places to fourth.

A jet rather than a turboprop now heads the regional rankings for the first time, with the Bombardier CRJ100/200 overtaking the ATR 42/72.

The Russian/CIS fleet, with data compiled by Paul Duffy, has declined 4% to 2,985 aircraft since last year's census. A further 69 aircraft are on order. The Tupolev Tu-154 heads the fleet rankings. The list continues to be dominated by out-of-production types, as efforts to resurrect the region's industry remains stalled due to lack of funding.

Source: Flight International