The global freighter fleet is expected to grow to 3,260 freighters over the next two decades, representing an increase of 63% from the current fleet of 2,010 freighters, according to an update to Boeing’s Commercial Market Outlook (CMO).
Compared to passenger aircraft, the dislocation from the COVID-19 crisis to freighter demand is expected to be minimal. Despite the resilience of the freighter segment, however, the 2039 freighter fleet according to Boeing’s latest estimate represents a 4% downward revision from the 3,400 units the planemaker had forecast in its 2019 CMO due to “near-term COVID impacts” and changes to retirement assumptions, a Boeing spokesperson told Cargo Facts.
The expected drop in deliveries is more pronounced with 2,430 new and converted freighters needed for growth and replacement by 2039 — a 14% drop from 2,820 units forecast in the 2019 CMO (see chart at right).
Deliveries of production freighters are expected to number 930 over the next two decades, comprised of 450 large widebodies and 480 medium widebodies — a decrease of 110 units compared to the 2019 CMO. While the medium widebody forecast is only lower by twenty units compared to last year, Boeing predicts ninety fewer large widebodies will be needed over the next two decades compared to the forecast of 540 in last year’s CMO.
Earlier this year, Boeing announced it would end 747-8F production in 2022. “In the large segment, 747 production freighter retirement assumptions were lengthened due to its unique nose door capability and end of production announcement since the last forecast,” a Boeing spokesperson told Cargo Facts.
The global fleet is forecast to require 1,500 freighter-converted aircraft by 2039, a decrease from 1,780 forecast in 2019. At 1,080 units, the number of narrowbody redeliveries is lower by 140 units in the 2020 CMO forecast, while 140 fewer widebody conversions are also expected.
As Cargo Facts has reported, the crisis has catalyzed the conversion of some younger airframes, which could reduce the number of expected retirements. “These airplanes are then expected to remain in the market longer necessitating less replacement within the forecast period,” said a Boeing spokesperson.
Net fleet growth is also affected by lower expectations for air cargo. Boeing’s 2020 CMO assumes the air cargo market will grow at an annual rate of 4% per annum, representing a 0.2 percentage point decrease from the 2019 CMO forecast to reflect near-term COVID impacts. However, “The economic downgrades have been partially offset by structural express growth,” Boeing told Cargo Facts.
The revised growth rate is not unexpected considering total cargo traffic is down 12.6% year-to-date through August, compared to last year, according to IATA. Much of this is a reflection of capacity which IATA deems “insufficient.” Capacity for the first eight months of the year was 29.4% lower compared to last year, despite additional freighter utilization and the deployment of cargo-only passenger aircraft to offset cancelled passenger flights.
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