The United States aircraft manufacturer Boeing is predicting a five-percent growth in the Middle East and North Africa in 2009. The company made the prediction ahead of a major air conference taking place in Abu Dhabi this week.
Orders for new aircraft are expected to decline considerably during the current calendar year because of the international financial crisis. Air traffic in general was down in January – a trend industry analysts predict will continue in the short term.
“For passenger travel we saw a very rapid reaction from business travelers because the financial sector is a major user of air-transport services,” Brian Pearce, the chief economist at IATA said. “We’ve also seen a very steep fall in the number of passengers traveling on economy tickets.”
Yet the Middle East remains a bubble of optimism. Middle Eastern passenger numbers increased by 3.1% year on year in January, according to the International Air Transport Association, which represents some 230 airliners. However, that figure is well down on the double-digit growth for much of 2008.
Aircraft in the Middle East have fewer passengers than they had a year ago because, while passenger numbers are increasing, the 10.8% growth in capacity far outstripped the additional travelers.
Where the airline business in the Middle East is suffering is in the realm of freight traffic, which was down 6.1% in January, compared to the same month last year. This constitutes a double blow because the total capacity for freight increased in the same period by 7.3%.
Boeing is hoping the Middle East will soften the damage to its manufacturing business. Along with its main rival, Airbus, the company has been courting Middle Eastern airlines for several years. The giants in the region, Emirates, Qatar Airways and Gulf Air, have been a major source for fresh orders.
Not only is Boeing trying to curry favor in the region, but so too, are leaders from Seattle, the company’s home base. Boeing is the largest employer in Snohomish County. The country has dispatched a team to the Gulf and in particular the UAE, where the group will meet with trade officials in Dubai and Abu Dhabi. The UAE is Washington State’s sixth-largest export market.
“While we expect that airlines will be reactive to deal with the current unprecedented slump in the global economy, our long-term market analysis points to continued growth in the Middle East, where air travel has grown at a record pace and averaged more than 12% over the past five years,” Boeing’s vice president of marketing Randy Tinseth told journalists in Egypt on Sunday.
The company predicts some 1,580 new aircraft will be delivered to the Middle East over the next 20 years.