More Middle East aircraft orders expected after quiet Paris Air Show
As the Paris Air Show came to a close on Sunday, Middle Eastern airlines did not leave empty-handed for new aircraft orders, but fewer came in than analysts expected.
At the biennial event in Le Bourget in the north of the city, airlines, aircraft lessors and manufacturers congregated to announce new jet orders and other strategic partnerships.
This year, the air show culminated in some 1,266 orders — the highest amount since the Farnborough Air Show in 2018 before the COVID-19 pandemic when the industry was strong.
The Middle East is one of the fastest growing parts of the world in terms of air passenger traffic, due to its advantageous geographical position as a hub for international flights and ambitious economic expansion plans by different countries — many of which include the development of their tourism industries.
But contrary to expectations, there were few orders from Middle Eastern carriers at the air show and notably none from the big three airlines in the Gulf: Emirates, Etihad and Qatar Airways. In terms of Middle Eastern orders, there was a new one for 30 A320neo aircraft from Saudi budget airline Flynas. Air Algeria was also revealed to be the undisclosed order of eight Boeing 737 Max 9 single-aisle aircraft.
Saudi Arabia’s new airline, Riyadh Air — which is owned by the kingdom’s influential Public Investment Fund — made its international debut on the first day of the air show on June 19 when a jet in the carrier’s purple livery flew over Le Bourget Airport. The airline is not short of capital and has ambitious expansion plans as it aims to carry more than 100 million passengers to more than 100 destinations by the end of the decade.
There was rumor that the new entrant was going to make a significant order for Airbus planes this year, but Riyadh Air CEO Tony Douglas said on Sunday that his airline would not be announcing an order at Le Bourget. In March, the new carrier announced a provisional order of up to 72 Boeing 787 Dreamliners. Toulouse-headquartered Airbus is also hoping to snag a deal with the ambitious new airline in the future.
The International Bureau of Aviation (IBA) industry consulting firm had forecasted 2,100 orders at the air show.
“We expected more orders from the region as the current order backlog is the lowest it has been in 10 years,” Dan Taylor, IBA’s head of consulting, told Al-Monitor. “We are expecting the total fleet to grow at an average rate of 5% per year over the next 10 years. Also, the average fleet age has climbed to 12 years, potentially indicating that some fleet refresh is also due.”
Stuart Hatcher, IBA’s chief economist, added, “I was expecting some action from Royal Air Maroc and firming up of the Saudi orders. I wasn’t expecting anything from Emirates at this point but did expect at least some Saudi firm-up of the Boeing LOI given it’s already out there.”
Turkish Airlines (THY) was expected to announce a large order at the air show, but on June 6 it said it would order up to 600 aircraft, including options, covering 400 narrowbodies and 200 widebodies split between Airbus and Boeing, in the next two months.
“There were a number of expectations that didn’t come in (THY delayed by two months at the last minute), and I think the pressure was off Airbus to secure any more air show orders after the Indian orders came in,” Hatcher said. “I am expecting Riyadh Air to come in with an Airbus order at some point. However, that may come in between now and Dubai.”
As lead times on deliveries of new orders of aircraft can be for several years, especially for the popular types like A320 and 737 Max models, competing carriers are vying to get the new technology before their rivals. IBA said there may be “counter-reaction” orders from Emirates, Etihad and Qatar Airways in response to the upcoming Turkish Airlines deal for more aircraft.
Despite there being no order from Emirates in Paris this year, CEO Tim Clark told reporters on June 19 that the carrier may order Airbus A350s, Boeing 777Xs or 787s soon, but he declined to give specific numbers. Indeed, the airline will need to start retiring its A380 superjumbo aircraft from 2032, which make up the majority of the carrier’s fleet. IBA said that a large order from Emirates is more likely to be announced at the Dubai Air Show, which will take place in the UAE in November.