Boeing predicts coming wide-body surge
The number of airplanes in the worldwide freighter fleet will increase by more than 80 percent during the next 20 years, as demand for air cargo services nearly triples.
Large freighters will play an increasing role in air cargo transport, as the large freighter category comes to represent 36 percent of the world’s freighter fleet by 2031, compared to 31 percent today and 22 percent a decade ago. By leveraging the significant efficiency and capability advantages of large freighters, carriers will be able to manage projected traffic growth without proportionately increasing the number of airplanes.
Despite natural disasters and a continuing series of political and economic challenges, air cargo traffic remains relatively flat, after rebounding strongly in 2010 from the global economic crisis of 2008 and 2009. Cargo operators have varied freighter utilization, temporarily grounded portions of the fleet and/or retired older freighters in response to market uncertainties. In the long term, the industry will benefit from this removal of surplus capacity and replacement of older freighters with more efficient airplanes.
Reflecting traffic stability, the number of airplanes in the freighter fleet has remained virtually the same since 2009 (1,755 planes in 2009 compared to a current 1,738 aircraft). The mix of airplane sizes has shifted, however, toward large freighters. The large freighter share of the fleet has grown from 26 percent to 31 percent since 2009. As deliveries of newer, larger freighters increased over the past 18 months, yields and load factors came under pressure. (Please note that the accompanying charts present actual data, as opposed to the rounded totals presented in the Boeing Current Market Outlook 2012-2031.)
The industry’s oft-demonstrated resilience is projected to prevail over recent adverse pressures. Demand for air cargo services will nearly triple by 2031 in response to the industry’s growing dependence on speed and reliability, continued product innovation and global interdependence. This demand growth will spur the world freighter fleet to expand by more than 80 percent — from the current 1,738 airplanes to 3,198 airplanes by the end of the forecast period.
About 1,300 of the 2,754 projected freighter deliveries will replace retiring airplanes, with the remainder expanding the fleet to meet the requirements of project traffic growth. Two-thirds of deliveries will be freighter conversions, 60 percent of which will be from standard-body passenger airplanes. Of the projected 935 new production airplane deliveries (valued at $250 billion), about three-quarters will be in the large freighter category.
Cargo capacity supplied by dedicated freighters will continue to rise slightly faster than lower-hold capacity in the passenger airplane fleet. By 2031, freighters will provide nearly 45 percent of the world’s cargo capacity, despite the continuing trend toward passenger airplanes with greater belly-hold capability.
The freighter share of the total commercial fleet will decline slightly to 8 percent, even as the number of freighter airplanes grows. Continual increase in average freighter size and the influx of newer, more efficient airplanes will facilitate higher airplane utilization and load factor to meet projected demand growth without a proportional increase in freighter numbers.
Significant Developments and Trends
Diverse factors affect world freighter fleet growth, often exerting contrary pressures. For example, rising fuel prices increase air cargo transport costs, depressing demand for services. At the same time, high fuel prices are an incentive for airlines to replace aging airplanes, bolstering demand for new freighters.
The forecast takes into account several significant world freighter fleet developments and trends. First, it’s concerned with the introduction of wide-body passenger airplanes with increasingly capable belly-holds, which continues to moderate freighter demand. Also, the advantages offered by freighter operations — including superior focus and control, timing and routing, capacity (volume, weight, hazmat, and dimensional), handling location and ramp proximity — weigh into the picture. Most important, however, the forecast weighs the reliability and predictability of freighters, often offset a lower-hold price advantage.