Long-term demand for large widebody freighters will increase by up to 400 units over the next two decades because the freighter-to-belly share of air cargo transportation is expected to remain at an even 50-50 split, according to the 2021 update to the Cargo Facts Consulting 20-year Freighter Forecast.
“This year, we’ve changed the central assumptions that we have in the forecast,” said Frederic Horst, managing director of Cargo Facts Consulting. “Previously, we assumed that we would see the freighter share of total traffic decline as more capable belly capacity was hitting the market,” he said.
Although other forecasts have predicted a gradual shift in favor of the belly, Cargo Facts Consulting believes the equilibrium rests at 50%. Airbus’ 2019 Global Forecast, for example, estimated that eventually 60% of air cargo would move in passenger bellies. “We’ve found the historical trends don’t support a shift, and the 50-50 freighter share has actually remained pretty consistent. Over time, and going forward, we think that this will also hold,” said Horst.
“Particularly in the large widebody segment, this has huge, huge impacts,” Horst said. Based on the 50-50 belly-to-freighter assumption, Cargo Facts Consulting expects annual growth of about 2.8% for the segment, which equates to 770 large widebody freighter additions over the next twenty years. Demand for narrowbody and medium widebody freighters is less responsive to shifts in bellyhold capacity because the majority of these two segments operated “outside normal commercial networks” by or on behalf of express integrators or e-commerce retailers, Horst said.
A ten-point shift in favor of the belly means a difference of 400 additional large widebody freighters over the next two decades, according to the forecast.
Primarily as a result of the pandemic, CFC has tweaked other key forecast inputs. The forecast lifts annual air cargo market growth expectations from 3.9% to 4.3% over the next two decades because of lower market growth in 2020 that will lead to higher growth in future years. CFC expects the continued shift from five– to seven-day express delivery to drive productivity increases in the narrowbody and medium widebody segment. However, with large widebody utilization approaching record highs, the larger segment will see limited gains, said Horst.
Despite the bullish outlook for the large widebody segment, there are a limited number of aircraft on offer that will meet this demand. The 777F is currently the only large widebody freighter production freighter available for purchase. On the conversion front, Israel Aerospace Industries is developing a passenger-to-freighter conversion based on the 777-300ER, and there are rumblings of other conversion programs based on the 777-200, notes Horst. “The large widebody segment is one that causes me a great deal of concern, I have to say, because there is not a lot of aircraft choice in that segment.”
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