The Asia-Pacific skies are becoming a crucial arena for the world's two aircraft manufacturing giants, Boeing Co. (NYSE: BA) and Airbus S.A.S. (EPA: EAD).
Boeing, the world's second-largest maker of airplanes, estimates that by 2031, there will be 34,000 new planes in the skies. And about 40 percent of these planes will be sold in the Asia-Pacific region.
The Chicago-based company said the region will need 5,600 new pilots and 243,500 technicians within the next two decades as Asia-Pacific's rapidly growing economies encourage more people to travel by air, according to Boeing's 2012 Pilot and Technician outlook presented in Singapore.
China will lead growth in the Asia-Pacific region, with 71,300 pilots and 99,400 technicians in demand through 2030, Boeing said in a statement.
Boeing predicts Asia-Pacific will take delivery of 12,030 new jets between now and 2031.
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"Asia is where the growth is," Bob Bellitto, global sales director for Boeing's flight services, said at a briefing in Singapore. "We need a lot more pilots here than we do in the North America region or Europe, where the market is largely saturated or full."
Europe will get 7,760 planes through 2030, while North America will receive 7,290, Boeing said.
Airbus, the world's largest maker of airplanes, forecast in February that airlines will buy 26,900 more passenger jets by 2030 as the global fleet doubles from 15,000 to more than 31,500.
China and India will be the major sources of demand for new aircraft over the next two decades, according to Airbus, with the Asia-Pacific region accounting for 34 percent of deliveries, compared with 22 percent each for the European Union and North America.
Speaking at the China Civil Aviation Development Forum 2012 in Beijing, the International Air Transport Association's Chief Executive Officer Tony Tyler noted that China already ranks second in the world for domestic passengers, seventh for international and fourth for international cargo.
"But this is only the beginning. Of the 877 million additional global air travelers expected to fly in 2015 than in 2010, more than 212 million will be on journeys within or connected to China," Tyler said, according to a statement.
The Indian aviation market will need 1,043 new planes worth around $145 billion by 2030, the European plane maker Airbus projected in February. The forecast was slightly higher than one made a year ago.
India's aircraft market is currently ranked fourth worldwide, both in terms of the number of planes and value, Airbus said.
Passenger traffic in India is growing by 7.2 percent annually, well above the average rate of 5.9 percent for the Asia-Pacific region and the global average of 4.8 percent.
"Growing urbanization and population concentrations combined with a growing middle class and dynamic economic growth are driving demand and this trend is expected to continue," Airbus noted.
Boeing said Monday in a company blog post that a temporary assembly line to boost production of its new carbon-fiber 787 Dreamliner planes is now up and running at its factory in Everett, Washington, a step toward advancing the jet's production rate to 10 each month from the current 3.5 per month by the end of 2013.
Also on Monday, an Air India executive told Dow Jones Newswires that it is set to take delivery this week of its first 787 Dreamliner jet after a delay of some four years. Air India ordered a total of 27 Dreamliner jets in 2005 as part of a $15 billion, 111-plane contract with Boeing and Airbus.
Demand for new aircraft is accelerating in the Asia-Pacific region. Singapore Airlines Ltd. announced earlier this month that it had ordered 54 new Boeing planes worth $4.9 billion, its biggest single purchase in six years, for its regional wing SilkAir.
Xiamen Airlines Co., China's only all-Boeing carrier, is in talks to buy 30 737 MAX planes from Boeing for $3.2 billion, Bloomberg reports, citing an official at the airline who asked not to be identified as the discussions are private.
Xiamen Air, a unit of China Southern Airlines Limited (NYSE: ZNH), agreed to order 40 737-800s earlier this month, Boeing said in a statement.
Rival Airbus won a long-awaited new order from Hong Kong's Cathay Pacific Airways Ltd. (HKG: 0293) at the 2012 Farnborough International Airshow. The Hong Kong-based carrier agreed to buy 10 A350-1000s in a deal valued at $4.2 billion.
On Tuesday, the Toulouse, France-based Airbus announced it won a $7 billion order to help more than triple Philippine Airlines Inc.'s fleet, beating Boeing to a deal.
The country's largest full-service carrier plans to buy up to 100 new jets in total within the next five to seven years, the biggest-ever fleet expansion in its 71-year history.
Meanwhile, Airbus is also close to winning an order, potentially worth around $9 billion, from China for more than 100 narrow-body planes in what would be the European manufacturer's single biggest agreement this year, Bloomberg reports, citing three people familiar with the negotiations.
A purchase exceeding 100 planes would help Airbus narrow the gap in orders this year with Boeing, which dominated the Farnborough Air Show in July with its 737 MAX airliner.
Airbus enjoyed a record year in 2011, booking net orders for 1,419 craft worth $140 billion compared with Boeing's 805.
This year, however, it will probably be Boeing's turn to rule the skies, after Airbus admitted in January that it could not keep up the momentum for the A320neo, which is now being challenged by Boeing's equivalent, the 737 MAX. The A320neo and MAX are revamped versions of Airbus and Boeing's bestselling aircraft, featuring new engines and other improvements designed to help reduce fuel use.
Airbus finished last year with a 64 percent market share, but its chief operating officer, John Leahy, said the company is "comfortable" with 50 percent.
"Our industry is a long-term one and we have outsold and out-delivered our competitor in nine out of the last 10 years, so even if they do well this year, a 10:1 ratio would still be OK for us," Leahy said, according to The Guardian.
Speaking before Farnborough, Boeing's chief executive, Jim McNerney, said he thinks there is a good chance that Boeing will wrest back the crown this year and next.
The global airline industry may post net income of $3 billion in 2012, of which $2 billion is forecast for Asia- Pacific carriers, according to the International Air Transport Association. Travel demand in the Asia-Pacific region is expected to rise 3.9 percent this year, compared with 2.3 percent in Europe, it said in June.
There's no doubt that whoever is able to snap up greater market share in the Asia-Pacific area will get a foot ahead of the competition.
Shares of The Boeing Company (NYSE: BA) rose 0.38 percent to $71.65 in Tuesday's mid-day trading. Shares of EADS NV (EPA: EAD) rose 0.49 percent to close at €29.77.