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Gulf’s low-cost carriers fuel demand for smaller aircraft

Gulf low cost airlines planes Flydubai
Demand for single-aisle jets is predicted to surge thanks to low-cost carriers like Flydubai
  • Single-aisle jets in demand
  • Capacity up 25%
  • 2,920 new planes on order

The number of single-aisle aircraft in the Middle East is expected to more than double in the next 20 years on the back of a predicted rapid expansion for low-cost carriers and short-haul networks.

By 2042, nearly half of the planes operating in the region will be single-aisle jets, according to a commercial market outlook (CMO) report by plane manufacturer Boeing.

Single-aisle – also known as narrowbody – aircraft, are smaller and often used to operate short-haul international flights and domestic routes. 

They have more efficient engines and aerodynamics that enable them to fly shorter distances with less fuel consumption. This makes them ideal for airlines operating on high-frequency, low-cost routes, such as domestic and regional flights.

Darren Hulst, vice president of commercial marketing at Boeing, said single-aisle aircraft operating in the Middle East were flying at almost 25 percent higher capacity than pre-pandemic levels.

He said the company’s single-aisle 737 Max fleet is completing 350 daily flights to, from and within the Middle East, and that the average capacity of a single-aisle jet serving this market is 172 seats.

Airlines in the region serve about 300 new city pairs – direct or connecting flights by one or multiple air carriers – since 2019.

Hulst predicted even more growth in demand for single-aisle jets by low-cost carriers in the Gulf “to stimulate traffic, to connect people and ultimately to increase economic activity in the region.”

Regional low-cost carriers include Air Arabia, Jazeera Airways, Airblue, Flydubai, Wizz Air and Flynas.

New Saudi Arabian airline Riyadh Air is also set to announce a deal to buy a “sizeable” number of narrowbody aircraft.

The airline has already provisionally ordered 72 Boeing 787 widebody (twin-aisle) jets and the carrier’s CEO Tony Douglas said narrowbodies were next. An announcement is expected at this week’s Dubai Airshow.

Emirates, Qatar Airways and Etihad Airways are expecting a 2025 delivery of Boeing’s long-awaited 777X, which will be the world’s largest twin-engine widebody aircraft
Top region for deliveries

Middle Eastern airlines posted a 27 percent increase in August traffic compared to a year ago, according to latest figures from the International Air Travel Association. Capacity rose 23 percent and load factor climbed 3 percentage points to 83 percent.

Boeing’s CMO report projects delivery of 3,025 new planes in total to the Middle East by 2042.

This includes 1,570 single-aisle aircraft and 1,350 widebody jets. They make up 45 percent of deliveries to Middle East airlines over the next 20 years. This is the highest percentage of the 10 global regions featured in the report.

Hulst confirmed they are “on track” to deliver the long-awaited 777X in 2025, with Emirates – its launch customer – anticipating its arrival.

The world’s largest twin-engine widebody is capable of carrying more than 400 passengers and was originally scheduled to enter the market in 2020.

However, it has faced delays related to two separate 737 Max crashes as well as the pandemic and related supply chain disruption.

Emirates has 115 of the aircraft on order, while Qatar Airways has ordered 74 and Etihad Airways 25.

Hulst said that the resurgence of air travel after the pandemic meant that airlines wanted new aircraft “as soon as they can get them.”

He added: “We are producing less aircraft than the market wants and needs. We’re working as hard as we can to provide the highest quality and most efficient aircraft to the market as soon as we can.”

Meanwhile, European rival Airbus reaffirmed 2023 financial and delivery forecasts and said it would raise the target for A350 jet production to 10 a month in 2026.