Multiple market forces are working to the advantage of the aviation market, representing a significant and sustainable growth opportunity for machine tool builders. These forces include the strong global growth of both passenger and freight air transport demand followed by strong demand for new aircraft and increasing competition between aircraft manufacturers. The combined results of these factors should point to a robust aerospace market for years to come that may present opportunities for machine tool builders to make long-term investments and grow their businesses.
Backlog orders across the industry are robust with the combined backlogs of Airbus and Boeing exceeding 12,000 aircraft. This backlog is split evenly between the two rivals. The value of all these planes is likely in excess of $2 trillion, as Airbus stated in mid-2017 that its backlog value alone exceeds $1 trillion. To clear the total backlog using recent annual delivery data from both firms would take more than 8 years. This estimate does not account for future expected orders, cancellations or expanded manufacturing operations. Lastly, these figures do not account for aircraft orders and deliveries by other firms such as Mitsubishi, Bombardier or Embraer.
In a June 2017 release from Boeing, the company stated that it will produce a modified 737 called the “737 MAX 10” to compete with the successful Airbus A321Neo. Both planes are designed to fill the “middle of market” (MOM) passenger jet segment. MOM jets are described as narrow-body aircraft, meaning they are single-aisle jets less than 4 meters across. A MOM jet is typically capable of carrying approximately 200 passengers depending on the cabin configuration and number of seating classes. In June, competing jet engine manufacturers General Electric and Safran both indicated that they stand ready to provide new high-efficiency engines for Boeing’s new jet.
The Airbus A321—a member of Airbus’ A320 family of narrow body jets—has been extremely successful for Airbus. According to Airbus website statistics as of June 16 this year, the A320 family of jets comprised 75 percent of the company’s current orders and deliveries. In total, Airbus reported in June that it has more than 5,050 firm orders for planes using Neo engines. Boeing’s response to Airbus’ success, however, will not be immediately felt until capacity at Boeing’s manufacturing facilities is freed up from the completion of existing orders for its 777X and 737 MAX planes.
The Chinese state-owned Commercial Aircraft Corp. of China (COMAC) is also bringing its own narrow-body jet, the C919, to market in the near future. The C919 which will carry fewer than 200 passengers, made its first flight in May 2017 and is expected to enter service in 2020.
Passenger and freight statistics produced by the World Bank and China’s National Bureau of Statistics are highly impressive. Data from the World Bank indicates that the worldwide number of passengers on planes from 2005 to 2015 increased by almost 75 percent. Worldwide growth as measured by this metric showed significant variation by nation. In the U.S., total passenger growth increased by 11 percent, while China experienced total growth of 219 percent, representing 12.3 percent annual growth.
According to data released in April 2017 from China’s National Bureau of Statistics and seasonally adjusted (SA) by Gardner Business Intelligence, in the five years ending April 2017, Chinese passenger-kilometers traveled increased by 88 percent, representing more than 13 percent annual growth. Similarly, Chinese air transport of freight measured in ton-kilometers increased by 51 percent during the same time, representing almost 9 percent annual growth. These impressive growth statistics are supported by comparable aviation data gathered by the World Bank.
The international demand for aircraft and air transportation is reflected in the volume of shipments for aircraft components requiring machining. The value of aircraft components including pumps, motors and actuators have increased thanks in small part to new aircraft production, but largely as a result of increasing demand for air services. Using data for the five years ending in April 2017, the value of power cylinders and actuators shipped grew by 12.9 percent on an annual basis, while the value of pumps and motors shipped increased 5 percent annually.
Looking to the future, GBI expects the aircraft components industry will experience continued growth as low operating costs and a growing worldwide population of air-travelers powers the expansion of the worldwide aviation market. As the flying population continues to grow this will create strong demand for new and reconditioned jets, able to transport more people to more destination pairs. Technological advancements which have brought geographically diverse sources of oil from shale rock formations and deep-sea deposits to market will limit OPEC’s ability to inflate oil and jet fuel prices. The dynamics of the oil market moving forward will result in airlines being able to profitably sell seats to cost conscious travelers, driving the quantity of seat-miles consumed even higher. We expect this combination of a growing consumer base and low operating costs to benefit the aerospace components manufacturers and the OEMs well into the future.
The global aviation market represents a significant source of future growth for the machine tool market. It will be important for machine tool firms to build international relationships that will allow them to capture market share and growth in those regions of the world that are experiencing double-digit demand for air transportation. If aircraft manufacturers such as Boeing, Airbus and others are going to run their facilities at ever higher levels of capacity for the next five or more years, it will be important for their component suppliers to have strong operational and logistical capabilities to support these demanding aircraft delivery schedules. This will mean that machine tool providers will also need to be prepared to meet the growing and highly demanding needs of their customers at all levels of the aerospace manufacturing supply chain—having new equipment ready for sale and to be able to quickly support existing equipment maintenance and repair needs.