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Asia to be world s biggest aircraft market

HONG KONG, Mar 7- Asia will emerge as the world\’s biggest aircraft market by 2029, accounting for a third of worldwide plane deliveries as the region\’s growing middle class drives demand, Airbus said Monday.

The European plane maker also said it was experiencing surging Chinese demand for corporate jets and that sales to Chinese buyers could approach levels in the dominant Middle Eastern market.

Worldwide, air traffic is set to double over the next 15 years, with the Asia-Pacific region expected to overtake North America and Europe as the largest air transport market, taking delivery of about 8,560 new planes worth $1.2 trillion by 2029, Airbus said.

That figure will represent about 33 percent of world deliveries, up from the region\’s 26 percent share between 1990 and 2009, Airbus said as it released its latest Asia-Pacific Market Forecast.

"Asia Pacific will lead this air traffic by 2029," Chris Emerson, the firm\’s senior vice president for product strategy and market forecast, told a press briefing in Hong Kong ahead of a major aerospace conference starting in Hong Kong on Tuesday.

"In Asia, more and more people are able and wanting to fly every day," he added.

The aviation industry will grow 4.8 percent annually over the next two decades, the company said, while the sector booked a record $30 billion operating profit last year, a rise also led by Asian carriers.

The Asia-Pacific area will grow faster than the worldwide average, with passenger numbers rising 5.8 percent a year, and the cargo business growing seven percent annually, also higher than the 5.9 percent worldwide average, Airbus said.

Emerson said Asia had the "youngest and newest" fleets, with aircraft that burn less fuel than older models, while the region is emerging as a key growth area among low-cost carriers.

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China\’s effort to build intra-city high speed rail networks would have "limited impact" on the aviation sector\’s growth in the country, he added.

In November, Air China said it would buy 20 passenger planes from Airbus in a deal worth $4.49 billion, while China Eastern Airlines said in December that it had inked a deal with the aircraft maker to buy 50 A320 airliners with a list price of $3.22 billion.

On Monday, Airbus also said its corporate jet operation set a company record last year, delivering 15 jets worth $1.5 billion, with China the firm\’s fastest-growing market.

Chinese customers accounted for about 25 percent of the company\’s business jet sales last year, with that figure expected to close in on the Middle East\’s 50 percent market share in "a couple of years," said Francois Chazelle, the company\’s vice president of executive and private aviation.

"The race is on — there is a lot of activity right now in China," he said.

Chazelle added that Chinese regulators appear set to loosen restrictions on the use of private jets in the country.

"A lot of progress is already taking place — Chinese regulators are being more and more welcoming to business aviation," Chazelle said.

Private jet sales in the hard-hit North American market have been "limited" but the European market is coming back thanks to orders from Russia, Chazelle added.

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