Demand for widebody aircraft is rising again as the Boeing 787 returns to service

The American planemaker delivered its first Dreamliner since May 2021, marking an important milestone for the manufacturer after production problems with its wide-body planes.

Boeing is now battling through tight regulatory controls to deliver even more 787s as it clears a backlog of about 120 planes stored outside its factories.

But analysts say there is growing demand for such jets after years of glut in the market.

From East Asia to the Gulf, several airlines are renewing their fleets of wide-body aircraft.

Saudi Arabia is discussing a potentially significant order for widebody jets, three industry sources said, although talks have meandered for several years with no announced deal and the timing of a decision may be a long way off.

But with Riyadh investing in tourism and aviation as part of its Vision 2030 plan to diversify its economy, one person following the matter has predicted a decision “sooner than later”, with the Boeing 787 and 777X potentially in the mix .

Taiwanese government-backed China Airlines is considering options to renew a fleet of 22 Airbus A330 jets in a competition between the 787 and the Airbus A330neo.

Malaysia Airlines is about to announce a deal on Monday to buy 20 A330neo wide-body jets, about half of which would be bought directly from Airbus.

“I am confident that when borders fully reopen we will see the same increase in international travel that we have seen in domestic markets,” Aengus Kelly, chief executive of AerCap, the world’s largest leasing company, said on Thursday.

“Given the volume of inquiries and the demand we’re seeing for widebody aircraft, it’s clear that the airlines are also convinced.”

International traffic has accelerated since the beginning of the year, although the International Air Transport Association says there is still a long way to go before it returns to pre-pandemic levels.

“What we’re seeing now is certainly an upswing continuing in certain international markets,” Ihssane Mounir, Boeing’s senior vice president of commercial sales and marketing, said after last month’s Farnborough Airshow.

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“The transatlantic is alive and well,” Mounir told reporters. “You see very strong demand between Europe and the US and … between the Middle East and Europe and the US. So people are sticking their heads out and … making plans.”

Part of the increased interest is due to delays caused by the manufacturers themselves, as well as increased regulatory scrutiny following the recent Boeing 737 MAX safety crisis.

Boeing’s large twin-engine 777X has been delayed to 2025, five years later than originally planned, and the 787 has had a one-year supply hiatus.

“There is a real increase in demand for wide bodies, but availability is limited due to delays in production and development, so it is not yet back to pre-COVID-19 levels,” said independent aviation adviser Bertrand Grabowski.

“The 777X is delayed and the program has its own problems, and the availability of the 787 has been erratic,” he added.

The problems are compounded by Airbus having to contend with supply chain problems.

“It remains to be seen whether Airbus will succeed in meeting their A350 delivery targets,” Grabowski added.

What still keeps markets guessing, and arguably the biggest piece of the question puzzle, is China, industry executives said.

Many saw the door ajar for a significant order from Boeing for a wide-body after the last major Chinese order, which focused exclusively on smaller narrow-body models, went to Airbus in July.

In September, US Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo said the Chinese government was preventing its domestic airlines from buying “tens of billions of dollars” of Boeing planes. China tends to balance its aircraft purchases over time, but it has been off the market for five years now as demand was hampered first by trade tensions and then the pandemic, analysts said.

Now, potential trade with emblematic American companies has been jeopardized by the furore surrounding US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan and Chinese military exercises around the self-governing island claimed by China.

The reduced air traffic, as millions of planes remain locked up, is also holding back demand, FlightGlobal Asia editor-in-chief Greg Waldron said last week.

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