The Aviation Industry Corporation of China (AVIC) forecasts China’s jet freighter fleet to more than triple over the next twenty years, growing to 723 units, up from 161 today.
While the company expects narrowbody freighters to comprise the bulk of the fleet in 2038 when an expected 330 units will be in service, large and medium widebody fleets are projected to grow to 174 and 219 units, respectively.
AVIC’s figures assume the emergence of one to two homegrown express carriers with networks on-par with current global heavyweights such as FedEx, UPS and DHL.
Although cargo tonnage carried by China-based carriers has not been growing at a rate that would immediately suggest rapid fleet growth (see CFC Insights Air Express Market Outlook for more), AVIC’s forecast assumes a continued shift in the belly-to-freighter ratio that favors freighter aircraft. Of the air cargo moved by China-based operators, AVIC estimates that freighters carry just under 45% of the FTKs. By 2038, this figure is expected to reach 55% thanks to growth in China’s domestic express networks.
While accurately predicting belly-to-freighter ratios twenty years out into the future would require clairvoyance or a crystal ball, a shift in favor of freighters is reasonable to expect. Without large freighter fleets, express carriers in China are heavily reliant on bellyhold capacity. If couriers continue to strive for faster delivery times, requiring later cut-offs, freighters could carry a greater share of the air cargo. Shenzhen-based SF Express, one of China’s more visible express carriers, is building out a multi-modal network to eventually enable 36-hour nationwide express service across China. SF’s airline affiliate already operates the largest China-based freighter fleet, and last month issued $212 million in bonds earmarked for aircraft purchases.
AVIC’s forecast isn’t too far off from Boeing’s own forecast over the next two decades. As part of the company’s 2019 Commercial Market Outlook, Boeing expects the Chinese freighter fleet to grow to 770 units by 2038.
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