Boeing’s new World Air Cargo Forecast 2014-2015, released this week, indicates that the global fleet of freighters will expand from the current 1,690 units to 2,730 units by the end of 2033. The fleet increase is in response to projected growth in air cargo demand of 4.7% per year over the next 20 years. Demand will be driven by growth in world merchandise trade that “will hover around historic rates,” and a forecast of 3.2% annual growth in the world economy.
Demand for air cargo services will more than double over the next twenty years, but the freighter fleet will only grow about 60%, as Boeing predicts “carriers will be able to manage projected air cargo traffic growth without a proportionate increase in the number of airplanes” by taking advantage of the “efficiency and capability of large freighters.”
The accompanying chart provides a summary of the make-up of the baseline freighter fleet and the fleet in 2033. Boeing now divides the fleet into four categories: standard-body conversions, medium widebody conversions, large widebody conversions, and large production units. The role of large production freighters is expected to increase, with a 30% share of the fleet in 2033, up from 21% today. At the small end of the size spectrum, Boeing foresees the standard-body conversion share of the fleet increasing to 40% from 35% today to meet growing demand for regional express services in fast-developing economies.
Boeing acknowledges that capacity in the bellies of passenger aircraft will increase, but finds that there are “significant operating advantages of dedicated freighters,” and as a result Boeing predicts that freighters will continue to carry more than half of the world’s air cargo.
Boeing foresees 2,170 projected freighter deliveries over the next 20 years, about half of which will replace retiring airplanes. More than 60% of deliveries will be freighter conversions. All-cargo and combination carriers are expected to take the majority of large freighters, while express carrier networks will take the majority of medium widebody production freighters. Standard-body freighters will be added to meet demand by operators in express and regional niche markets.
Not surprisingly, Boeing predicts that Asia markets will continue to lead air cargo industry growth. According to Boeing’s assessment, “The share of world air cargo traffic associated with Asia, including the domestic markets of China and Japan and all international markets connected to Asia, will increase from 51.3% in 2013 to 61.1% in 2033.” The two sectors with the highest growth rates worldwide will be China domestic and intra-Asia, with forecasted annual growth of 6.7% and 6.5%, respectively.