Latin America will buy a lot of planes over the next 20 years -- and most of them will be small. Image source: Boeing.

Imagine 6,330 new planes flying to China.

And 3,180 more heading to the Mideast.

Boeing (NYSE:BA) clearly has high hopes for the international airplane market, and over the past few months, it's been announcing the highlights of its latest "Current Market Outlook: 2015-2034" report in a steady drip of press releases.

Region by region, Boeing has been outlining its expectations for how many single-aisle 737s (and competing A320 family aircraft from Airbus (NASDAQOTH:EADSY)) it thinks world markets can absorb over the next two decades. It's updated expectations for widebody 777 and 787 (and A350 and A380) airplane demand as well. And in its latest release, Boeing has sketched out what it thinks demand will look like for both types of plane in the red-hot Latin American market.

Here are the highlights.

"Blue skies smilin' at me... nothin' but blue skies do I see!"
According to Van Rex Gallard, Boeing Commercial Airplanes' VP for sales in the Latin America, Africa, and Caribbean regions, the "economies of Latin America and the Caribbean will grow faster than the rest of the world over the long term ... causing passenger traffic in the region to grow by 6% per year -- well above the global rate."

How does Latin America compare with the other regions that Boeing has been touting? Here's a quick summary, putting data from Boeing's report into the context of regional population estimates from the World Bank:

 Region

Population in 2015

Plane Demand (Through 2034)

Inhabitants per Plane

China

1.364 billion

6,330

215,481

South America

525 million

3,050

172,131

Mideast

357 million

3,180

112,264


According to the World Bank, Latin America and the Caribbean boast a population of 525 million souls. That's 60% smaller than the population of China but nearly 50% bigger than the population of the Mideast region. Viewed from the perspective of how many planes will be needed to serve a given population, South American plane demand is right about in the middle between per-person demand in China and in the Mideast.

The really big difference, though, is in what kind of planes the South American market will demand.

The battle that Boeing must win
In hard numbers, Boeing expects Latin American buyers to buy 3,020 new airplanes over the next 20 years, and to spend perhaps $350 billion acquiring them. About 340 of these aircraft will be long-distance widebody jets, costing as much as $400 million a pop, and 160 or so will be much cheaper small regional aircraft, carrying 90 passengers or less.

The vast, vast majority of planes sold into Latin America over the coming two decades, though, will be single-aisle regional jets -- 737s and A320s selling in the low $100 million range. In total, Boeing predicts 2,520 such single-aisle sales into Latin America over the next 20 years. That will account for roughly 83% of all planes sold in the region -- and about 79% of all dollars spent on planes in the region. It will make Latin America one of the hottest markets for single-aisle aircraft in the world.

What it means for investors
Even if demand for large widebody aircraft will be muted, Latin America will consume nearly twice the number of single-aisle jets bought in the Middle East, and more than half the number of single-aisles sold in China, even though Latin America has a population barely one-third that of China's.

Going forward, when Latin American airline contracts come up for grabs, it's going to be absolutely crucial for Boeing's 737s to beat out Airbus's A320s. Widebody jets will still command the highest prices and the biggest headlines. But in Latin America, the name of the game is single-aisle -- and this is the game that Boeing must win.

Rich Smith does not own shares of, nor is he short, any company named above. You can find him on Motley Fool CAPS, publicly pontificating under the handle TMFDitty, where he's currently ranked No. 308 out of more than 75,000 rated members.

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