Factoring in COVID-19 disruptions, Cargo Facts Consulting (CFC) predicts the world’s jet freighter fleet will grow to 2,971 units by 2039, an increase of nearly 60% from the current fleet size of 1,885 units.
Including net fleet growth and retirements, the global freighter fleet will have to add 2,322 jet freighters during the next two decades, according to CFC.
Despite air cargo market and macroeconomic headwinds, the freighter market has and continues to do well. This is partially because of the decoupling freighter fleet growth and traffic growth. In 2019, the world’s freighter fleet increased by 6% despite an overall decline in cargo traffic of more than 6%. This trend is set to continue in 2020, as freighters are likely to continue to be in high demand as a result of large-scale passenger reductions.
Currently around two-thirds of the world passenger aircraft fleet are in storage and flight schedules are only operating at about a quarter of normal levels. The more than 350 passenger aircraft currently being utilized for cargo-only missions are a testament to how tight capacity is at the moment. Most of these aircraft are deployed carrying medical related cargo or food. The number of freighter aircraft in storage, meanwhile, continues to drop from already historic lows.
How well the freighter market performs over the next two to three years depends on how quickly belly capacity comes back online as we come out of the crisis. “While the long-term outlook for air cargo remains sound, the current crisis will have an effect on the long term average growth rate,” said CFC Managing Director Frederic Horst, “even if we assume an awful 2020 followed by a strong recovery in 2020.”
“As a consequence, we expect the long-term underlying traffic growth to drop from 4% to 3.8%,” Horst added.
During this twenty-year period, most growth is expected to take place in the narrowbody and medium widebody aircraft segments, while growth in the large widebody segment will be affected by available belly capacity. Over the long term, about half of all freighter additions are expected to replace older aircraft. Freighter conversions are likely to account for almost 70% of total fleet additions, but with major differences across segments. While demand in the narrowbody segment will be entirely met by conversions in the large and medium widebody segments are likely to be around 21% and 50%, respectively.
The size of the world’s feeder fleet is also expected to grow from 243 aircraft to 420 during the next twenty years. When accounting for replacement requirements, carriers will need to add some 401 feeder freighters, CFC finds.
The Freighter Forecast 2020-2039 may be purchased as part of an Insights subscription or as an individual report. Report subscribers will receive access to an interactive Freighter Forecast Tool that allows users to create their own alternative growth scenarios and a Feedstock Analysis Tool to analyze passenger-to-freighter feedstock for different feeder, narrowbody and widebody aircraft over a fifteen-year period. Subscribers will also receive access to regular freighter market analysis on the CFC Insights platform and a freighter forecast webinar.