May 2004 
Volume 03, Issue 1 
Special Features

Demographic shifts


By 2015, the global population will swell from today’s 6.3 billion to 7.2 billion, according to the United Kingdom–based Centre for Future Studies. About 95 percent of this growth will be in the urban areas of developing countries, especially within Asia.

It’s good news that China—the world’s most populous nation—also is forecast to experience a 20-year gross domestic product growth of 6.2 percent annually, the highest in the world. Rising GDP means a more affluent population. And that generally corresponds to more people flying, meaning more revenue for carriers that buy Boeing products.

The Boeing Commercial Airplanes 2003 Current Market Outlook predicts air traffic within the Asia-Pacific region will grow 6 percent annually over the next 20 years, far exceeding the European and North American markets. During this span, the report also sees China as being the largest airplane market outside the United States.

Another change on tap: an age gap. In the Western industrialized world, said Diana Farrell of the McKinsey Global Institute, the average age will range from 35 to 50, whereas so-called “developing countries” will have populations averaging between 25 and 35. This will affect the commercial airplane market, said Erik Peterson, senior vice president at the Center for Strategic and International Studies: Airplanes built to fly over the next couple decades “are going to have to be geared to older population segments”—and that includes everything from differently designed seating to increased access for those with limited mobility.

When Boeing introduces a new airplane, said Sherry Carbary, vice president of Commercial Airplanes’ Strategic Management, it recognizes that the airplane’s product life cycle can be 50 years or more. The Boeing 7E7 will have increased comfort in seat and aisle width and head clearances to accommodate aging populations. Commercial Airplanes doesn’t dictate all of an airplane’s interior design, but rather incorporates provisions in the airplane anticipating what airlines, and ultimately the flying public, will need based on a rigorous marketplace assessment and assumptions about the future.

Not only will older populations in Europe and North America require more governmental and economic resources from their home countries, but their skilled labor will go missing from the workforce as fewer young people are born to take their places. But who will occupy the high-tech jobs they held? As the years roll on, observers said, larger numbers of high-tech employees in America are likely to be non-U.S. nationals—especially given the current shortage of systems engineers at U.S. aerospace companies.

The larger issue, said Craig Johnstone, Boeing International Relations vice president for Europe, is what the United States needs to do to retain jobs: “For U.S. industry to remain competitive, there has to be a very strong focus on technical and educational development.” And that’s where improved American education comes in.

“More and more well-educated labor pools are coming into the world, which means we’ll have to bolster our education system so that American labor will be able to compete,” Peterson said. “It’s high time corporations take a bigger stake in it.”

Boeing is a major supporter of systemic reform in public education, with the company’s Community and Education Relations strategy centered on teacher effectiveness in early learning-through-12th-grade education in math, science and literacy, and in school leadership. (At the collegiate level, Boeing University Relations helps ensure that key institutions turn out students with the skills most needed for the company’s success.) That’s no accident, as Boeing needs to ensure the workplace of the future is well-equipped.

“In the end,” Peterson said, “it will be a smaller pool. What a number of companies will have to do is retrain and re-educate their own workforces to accommodate a major cycle of change.”


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