Airlines are expected to order aircraft worth more than £660bn over the next 20 years as worldwide demand grows strongly, according to Airbus, the planemaking consortium.
In its first global market survey for three years, Airbus believes the industry must be prepared to supply 13,000 new aircraft to meet an expected 5.1 per cent annual growth in passenger traffic.
The huge demand is good news for British Aerospace, which has a 20 per cent stake in Airbus and builds the wings for the consortium's planes.
John Leahy, Airbus senior vice-president, admitted that the aviation industry had been in crisis for several years, but believed the number of passengers flying would treble. "This forecast clearly demonstrates that air transport is a growth industry. We are totally confident that it is also a profitable industry."
The more mature North American market is expected to increase only 3.7 per cent a year, while growth in the Asia-Pacific region is forecast to total 7 per cent with China at 10 per cent.
BAe, which has placed its jets business in the Franco-Italian ATR joint venture, is looking for an Asian partner to join this group. BAe is also looking for substantial business under the Airbus grouping, which yesterday said it had established a subsidiary in Peking.
A support centre will be launched in China to start training programmes and provide spare parts from 1996. China bought its first A310 aircraft in 1985, and Airbus, which believes the country will buy another 500 passenger planes in the next 20 years, is aiming for a 30 per cent share of the Chinese market. The Shanghai-based Eastern Airlines ordered five Airbus planes last week.
Airbus reckons the average size of aircraft likely to be bought over the next few years will be 246 seats, with an increasing proportion in the wide-body category. These would account for 46 per cent of aircraft by 2014, compared with 28 per cent today.
Airbus sees the share of the world's passenger fleet operated by the 12 largest airlines declining from 45 to 37 per cent in 20 years.