Aerospace Market Forecast: What's in it for Composites?

Dr. Sanjay Mazumdar is president and CEO of E-Composites Inc. (Grandville, Mich.), a business consulting firm that provides market forecasts and competitive analyses. He has directed compilation of more than 15 multi-client market reports, published more than 25 technical papers in journals and conference

The aerospace industry has seen up and down cycles over the last 6 years (1999 through 2004), during which time the average annual growth rate was 0 percent. The aerospace market was significantly affected by the events of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attack in the U.S. The commercial aerospace market dropped from $54 billion (USD) in 1999 to $42 billion in 2004, suffering losses of over $10 billion in the last few years. Only defense aircraft and helicopter markets were positive, yielding annual growth of 11 percent and 8.5 percent, respectively. The defense aircraft industry saw significant growth from 1999 through 2004, due to increased government spending on military hardware.

The trend in the aerospace industry for 1999-2004 is shown in the figure below, in terms of shipment dollar value. This trend includes all six primary segments -- commercial, regional jet, general aviation, helicopter, defense aircraft and spacecraft. Total revenue generated by the aerospace industry was $109 billion in 1999, and the total remained the same in 2004, as shown. In 2004, a total of 5,938 aircraft were delivered in all market segments of the aerospace industry1.

While composites are used in all the aerospace market segments, the greatest quantity is consumed in the commercial aerospace segment.

In total, the industry used about 560 million lb of raw materials in 2004 to make a variety of structural and nonstructural parts. Composites currently represent a small segment of the aerospace industry, because of aluminum's dominance, but represent huge potential for growth. Aluminum is still the material of choice for the aerospace industry and is most widely used because of its light weight and cost-effectiveness. But, in terms of strength, aluminum is not the best choice. Its stiffness is very low compared to composite materials. Composite materials, on the other hand, are comparatively costly, but superior to aluminum in terms of strength and stiffness. Aerospace companies are turning more frequently to composites due to increased demand for highly fuel efficient aircraft. Like flying SUVs, commercial passenger planes consume an extraordinary amount of jet fuel -- it takes about 47,000 gallons to fill the fuel tanks on one Boeing 747. The use of composites over the last three decades has evolved from less than 5 percent in the Boeing 737 and 747 to over 17 percent in the Airbus A320. The A320, launched in 1990, uses about 17 percent com-posites and 66 percent aluminum, but the Airbus A380 will use more than 20 percent composites per aircraft. The Boeing 787 (the former 7E7), scheduled for delivery in 2008, will use about 50 percent composites by structural weight and will be 20 percent more fuel efficient than similar-sized planes, thanks to advancements in composite materials technology.

An estimated 17,500 new commercial planes will be delivered in the next 20 years. Over the next 10 years, passenger and freight traffic is forecast to grow at an annual rate of 5 percent and 6 percent, respectively. Likewise, composite materials in the aerospace market are forecast to grow by more than 10 percent annually from 2005 to 20101. During that period, it is estimated that the global aerospace industry will use $4.6 billion worth of composite materials. The defense industry, the Boeing 787 and the Airbus A380 will drive the growth for composite materials. During this period, the global end product market for composites, including radomes, horizontal stabilizers, vertical stabilizers, flaps, floors, bulkheads, etc., is estimated at $27 billion.


1This article is based on a December 2004 market report, Opportunities for Composites in the Global Aerospace Market 2004-2010, by E-Composites Inc., which estimates market size and forecasts trends for composite materials in various aerospace industry segments.