Airbus expects strong traffic growth in the South Pacific market will continue over the next 20 years, increasing the number of Australasian hubs ranked in the largest global categories.

There are currently three cities in the region which Airbus classifies as aviation “mega-cities” with more than 10,000 long-haul passenger movements per day, said Iain Grant, the company’s vice president for Pacific sales. These three are Melbourne and Sydney in Australia, and Auckland in New Zealand. Melbourne and Sydney are actually in the 20,000-plus category.

By 2036, Airbus estimates that Melbourne and Sydney will both have more than 50,000 daily passenger movements, and Auckland will move into the 20,000-plus category. In addition, Australian cities Brisbane and Perth will also have more than 20,000 daily movements by then.

The annual passenger total at the five largest Australian cities is set to double to 180 million by 2036, Airbus forecasts. The total for the three largest New Zealand cities is expected to rise to 38 million over the next 20 years, an increase of 15 million.

Outbound travel from Australia has been significantly ahead of inbound travel for about the past 10 years, according to Airbus. However, inbound travel has been catching up, and should match outbound travel in the near future, said Grant.

Inbound tourism from China has been particularly strong, tripling over the past 10 years. Tourism from India is also growing, with an annual rate of increase of 12%. The Indian market represents “an area of growth [Australia] can capitalize on,” Grant said.

For New Zealand, inbound travel has consistently remained ahead of outbound. The country has been “a huge success story in terms of tourism,” said Grant. Combined inbound and outbound tourist traffic has doubled every 10 years since 1995.

GDP growth in the South Pacific region is forecast to average 2.5% per year through 2036. The compound average growth rate for the region’s population is estimated at 1.2%, resulting in a total of 50 million in 20 years.

Australia and New Zealand have a relatively high rate of air travel compared to other countries. New Zealand had an average of four trips per capita in 2016, and Australia had 3.1. These rates are expected to increase to 5.6 and 4.9 respectively by 2036. In contrast, the U.S. had a trips-per-capita ratio of 1.8 in 2016, and the ratio is expected to rise to 2.5 by 2036.

Airbus estimates that the South Pacific region is currently served by 749 aircraft with 100 seats or more, operated by airlines based within the region as well as those from other regions. The total includes 460 narrowbodies, 252 twin-aisles, and 37 aircraft in the very large category. Airbus predicts the total will rise to over 1,350 by 2036, a net gain of about 600. Approximately 68% of traffic will be carried on widebodies and 32% on narrowbodies, about the same as the current ratio.

Both Qantas and Air New Zealand have revealed they are considering ordering next-generation widebodies to launch new ultra-long-haul routes. Qantas wants to be able to serve London and the U.S. east coast nonstop from the major Australian east coast cities, while Air New Zealand wants to be able to serve the U.S east coast nonstop from Auckland. Grant said Airbus is “very comfortable” with the ability of its proposed A350-900ULR variant to cover both airlines’ requirements.

Adrian Schofield, avweekscho@gmail.com