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Flight International airliner census records minimal fleet growth

posted Aug 24, 2010, 12:31 AM by Rowan Hewitt   [ updated Aug 24, 2010, 12:32 AM ]

This year's Flight International airliner census shows the lowest growth in the numbers of commercial aircraft in recent years, as a slight rise in the fleet of Western-built aircraft is all but offset by a large decline in the Russian types operating.

The 2010 census, compiled from Flightglobal's ACAS database, includes 27,047 airliners, an increase of just 0.4% on last year's total. This is the smallest change in the last five years and well below the 1.7% averaged annually between 2006 and 2009 (the definitions can be found at the start of the census listing on P29).

There are a multitude of factors that have caused the growth slump, with the global banking crisis and economic turmoil of the past two years being the main culprit. This has forced many airlines to cut capacity by parking or permanently retiring older aircraft (the census includes parked aircraft, but only those still with airlines so many will be excluded if they have been returned to their owners).

This factor has driven the number of idle Western-built jets to its highest-ever tally, an eye-watering 3,100 aircraft, which is over 7% up on this time last year.

The drive to phase out older airliner has been intensified by ongoing high output levels from the airframers' production lines. Many operators have chosen to continue with deliveries of the new jets they have on order, but rather than use them for growth they are instead replacing less efficient aircraft that have been retired prematurely to avoid increasing capacity. The result has been that despite Western-built deliveries being almost 4% up on the 2009 census, the Western-built fleet has risen just 1.5% compared with an annual average of 2.4% in the 2006-09 period.

The situation in Russia appears to have deteriorated over the past 12 months, with the percentage decline in fleet having broken into double figures for the first time, at 10.9%. The almost complete absence of new-build Russian airliners going into service, married to the fact that the in-service fleet is ageing rapidly (a factor magnified by the recent high oil prices) has pushed the fleet down to 2,156 aircraft. If the shrinkage continues at this rate, the fleet is likely to have dipped below the 2,000 unit mark a year from now.