Airbus on Monday clinched a deal to sell 50 A320neo aircraft to a Kuwaiti leasing firm on the second day of Dubai Airshow, as plane manufacturers forecast a boom in demand from the Middle East.
The firm ALAFCO signed an agreement with the European manufacturer to buy 50 units of the new single-aisle jet in a deal valued at $4.6 billion at list price. It took an option for another 30 units to be finalised by end of 2011.
But the deal remains modest in comparison with the order scooped by its US rival Boeing on Sunday from Dubai's Emirates for 50 B777 long-range aircraft worth $18 billion.
The two rival manufacturers said Monday that the Middle East aviation sector, which continues to outpace other regions in growth, will see a boom in demand for aircraft over the next 20 years.
According to Airbus' latest Global Market forecast, Middle East carriers will require 1,921 new passenger and freighter planes between 2011 and 2030, valued at $347.4 billion, of which 1,882 would be passenger planes.
"The main drivers of the continued strong demand for new aircraft include fleet expansion and replacement, greater urbanisation, an increasing number of mega cities and the overall ongoing expansion of the region as a geographical hub and tourist destination," it said.
Airbus maintained that these factors were driving an "above average passenger demand growth rate of 6.4 percent per year, which is well above the world average 4.8 percent over the next 20 years."
The growth rate would result in almost trebling the region's fleet from over 800 aircraft today to some 2,260 by 2030, while regional carriers were opting for longer range airliners as global travel hubs grow around the region.
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Boeing was even more upbeat, projecting a Middle East market of 450 billion with demand for 2,520 aircraft by 2030.
The region's carriers "continue to surpass global air traffic and capacity growth rates," the Seattle-based manufacturer said in a market forecast announced at the biennial show.
It estimated passenger airplanes in the Middle East to grow from a current fleet of 1,040 jets to 2,710 by 2030, with 34 of the projected demand to go to replace current aircraft.
"The region's airlines with their forward thinking approach have become a competitive force globally," said Boeing Commercial Airplanes Vice President of marketing Randy Tinseth who presented the manufacturer's market outlook.
Carriers like Emirates Airlines, Qatar Airways and Abu Dhabi's Etihad rank among the world's fastest growing airlines as they vie to expand their long-haul routes and increase capacity.
Emirates is now the largest single operator of Boeing's 777 long-haul airliner with some 95 units in service. Its Monday order was the largest single dollar-value order in Boeing's history.
The government-owned carrier is also the largest single customer of Airbus' superjumbo A380 with a purchase list of 90 units. It also has ordered 70 Airbus A350s.
Qatar Airways is the largest customer for the mid-size Airbus A350 with an order for 80 unit of the long-haul jet that aims to compete with Boeing's 787 Dreamliners.
After the record-breaking order clinched by Boeing from Emirates, Airbus' Leahy lamented that the delay in producing the A350 was throwing customers in the arms of its US rival.
"I wish we could deliver 350-1000 earlier ... If you need a lift now, you are not going o buy an A350, you are going to buy a (Boeing) 777," he told reporters on Tuesday.