MIAMI – According to Oliver Wyman’s fleet and latest MRO forecast, the number of commercial aircraft in the Middle East region will go up by 2% in the next five (5) years.

Furthermore, despite the grounding of a large number of aircraft during the pandemic, under 400 during that period, the number is estimated to reach more than 2,300 by 2031. 

The Middle-East region was impacted severely by the pandemic and airline losses increased dramatically. The Arabic region shares a unique environment of mostly state-owned carriers, which seem to be financially protected by their governments.

At the same time, the early predictions revealed that the regional fleet would not recover until early 2023. However, this outcome is not expected to impact the short-haul fleet nor the medium or long-term growth of the region.

Middle East Airlines T7-MRD Airbus A320-214. Photo: Lorenzo Giacobbo/Airways

COVID-19 and Middle Eastern Airlines

COVID-19 forced several Middle East carriers to cancel large numbers of orders, defer deliveries, retire aircraft, and most importantly, reschedule their network plans.

Most recently, Oman Air’s chairman explained the carrier will reduce its fleet size by around a third after putting growth plans on hold while travel restrictions drag on. The former report adds that constrained growth and consolidation will be the most likely phenomenon as aircraft fleets will become smaller. 

Oman Air A4O-MB Boeing 737-8 MAX. Photo: Alberto Cucini/Airways

A Shift towards the Narrow-Body Sector

The pandemic became an opportunity for the early retirement of traditional long-haul aircraft, such as the A380 and the Boeing 474, spearheading the shift towards the narrow-body segment. In particular, the A320neo and the Boeing 737 MAX are set to play an important role in the future development of the airlines in the region while in the wide-body sector, the Boeing 787 Dreamliner and the Airbus A350 will become the backbone of their long-haul operations. 

The current shift consisting of a large number of narrow-body aircraft orders, especially by the region’s budget carriers, reveals a new era. Middle Eastern carriers operate only 500 aircraft, a number that will increase dramatically, considering the expected strong growth of the aforementioned regional jets.

As such, the number of narrow-body aircraft is estimated to overtake the region’s wide-body fleets by 2027 while the former is projected to be reduced by about one percentage point on an annual basis. 

The Middle-East’s exposure to international traffic explains the slowest recovery timeline compared to other regions. Regional traffic will recover faster and the need for distribution of passengers within the region will affect the makeup of the region’s fleets.

Featured image: Etihad Airways A6-EJA Airbus A320-232. Photo: Alberto Cucini/Airways