Boeing issued the 2014 edition of its Current Market Outlook (CMO), forecasting passenger and cargo traffic, and the composition of the commercial jet aircraft fleet, for the twenty-year period through 2033. The full CMO is available on the Boeing website, but we will summarize some of the highlights – particularly concerning air freight demand and the future freighter fleet – here, starting with the basic assumptions on which Boeing bases its predictions.
First, though, note that Boeing is not the only forecaster of the future fleet. Airbus publishes what it calls the General Market Forecast, and Air Cargo Management Group (ACMG, Cargo Facts’ parent) publishes an annual forecast devoted specifically to the freighter fleet.
Turning now to Boeing’s basic assumptions:
- World economy: Boeing believes that world GDP will rise at an average annual rate of 3.2% over the twenty-year period of the forecast.
- Cargo traffic: The above GDP growth will drive up air freight demand, measured in Revenue Tonne Kilometers, at an annual rate of 4.7%
- Passenger traffic: Boeing predicts 5.0% annual growth in Revenue Passenger Kilometers.
Based on the above assumptions, Boeing predicts that airlines will take delivery of 36,800 new airplanes between now and 2033, of which 840 will be freighters – just 2.3% of the total deliveries. In addition to the deliveries of new freighters, Boeing believes carriers will also convert 1,330 existing passenger aircraft to freighter configuration, which will bring the total number of freighters added to the fleet over the period of the forecast to 2,170, as shown in the graphic at the bottom of this page.
Of course, along with the addition of new and converted freighters, carriers will retire some of their older units. Looking at these changes in detail, Boeing breaks the freighter fleet into three segments:
Large widebody: Freighters with payload greater than 80 tonnes, including 747-8F, 747-400, 747 Classic, 777, A350, MD-11, An-124, and Il-96. Over the forecast period, Boeing says carriers will take delivery of 590 new-build freighters in this segment.
Medium widebody: Freighters with payload between 40 and 80 tonnes, including 787, 767, DC-10, A330, A300, Il-76, and L-1011. Boeing predicts delivery of 250 new-build medium widebody freighters between now and 2033.
In addition to the new-build freighters, Boeing expects 370 large widebody and medium widebody passenger aircraft to be converted to freighter configuration and added to the fleet.
Standard body: Freighters with payload less than 45 tonnes, including 757, 727, 737, 707, A320, A321, MD-80, DC-8, DC-9, Tu-204, and BAe 146. There are no production freighters in this segment, but Boeing predicts that 960 standard body passenger aircraft will be converted to freighters over the forecast period.
To summarize, the current 1,690-unit freighter fleet is made up of 1,100 widebody freighters (including both large and medium widebodies) and 590 standard body freighters. Over the forecast period, 680 of the widebody freighters will be retired, while 840 new-builds and 370 conversions will be added. On the standard body side, 450 will be retired and 960 conversions will be added. This, according to Boeing, will give a 2,730 unit freighter fleet in 2033, made up of 1,630 widebodies and 1,100 standard bodies.