Boeing Forecasts Air Cargo Traffic to Double in Next 20 Years

The empty belly of an air cargo freighter aircraft.
Photo Credit: Boeing

LONDON – Boeing is forecasting strong demand for air cargo services through 2041, with traffic doubling and the world’s freighter fleet expanding by more than 60%. Boeing today released details from its 2022 World Air Cargo Forecast (WACF), a biennial detailed analysis of evolving industry dynamics.

The 2022 WACF projects that the world’s cargo fleet will require nearly 2,800 production and converted freighters for growth and replacement through 2041.

With cargo traffic doubling over the forecast period, operators will need to switch to more capable, fuel-efficient and sustainable jets like the 777-8 Freighter to meet demand, according to the Boeing forecast.

A third of deliveries will consist of new production freighters, while the remaining two-thirds will be freighter conversions, such as the 737-800 Boeing Converted Freighter (BCF), providing carriers with increased flexibility in existing and emerging markets.

“While the air cargo market is returning to a more normal pace after historic demand in the last two years, structural factors including express network growth, evolving supply chain strategies and new cargo-market entrants are driving sustained freighter demand,” said Darren Hulst, Boeing vice president of Commercial Marketing.

“In the global transportation network, air freighters will continue to be a critical enabler to move high-value goods, in increased volume across expanding markets.”

The 2022 WACF also provides these insights about the cargo market through 2041:

  • The Asia-Pacific region will take delivery of nearly 40% of all freighters, including new and converted freighters.
  • While dedicated freighters are 8% of the total commercial airplane fleet, they continue to carry more than half of all air cargo, with passenger airplanes carrying the remainder as belly cargo.
  • The global freighter fleet will grow by more than 1,300 airplanes to more than 3,600 jets over the next two decades.

SOURCE: Boeing 2022 World Air Cargo Forecast

The Chinese & European markets

While e-commerce is a global phenomenon, market size and growth vary by country. China represents the largest e-commerce market in the world, after overtaking the United States in 2013. In 2021, the Chinese market surpassed $2 trillion, more than double the United States market, which is estimated at $960 billion.

The European market was roughly one third the size of China’s market, at $665 billion, in 2021. While currently much smaller, many emerging markets such as India and Brazil are now seeing high growth and rapid network expansion

Freighters Are Indispensable

Freighters are critical for airlines competing in air cargo markets. While nearly half of the world’s air cargo has historically been carried in the bellies of passenger airplanes, freighters are a key component of the customized scheduling and operations flexibility that many air cargo customers need.

As a result, airlines with main-deck freighters in their fleets earn 90% of the air cargo industry’s revenue.

While increasingly capable widebody passenger airplanes helped the air cargo industry grow in the decade preceding the pandemic, we expect dedicated freighters to continue to carry at least 50% of the world’s air cargo traffic, even after long-haul passenger networks recover to pre-pandemic levels and beyond.

There are several key reasons for freighter preference in air cargo flows:

  • Most passenger-belly capacity does not serve key cargo trade routes.
  • Twin-aisle passenger schedules often do not meet shipper timing needs.
  • Freight forwarders prefer palletized capacity, which is not available on single-aisle aircraft.
  • Passenger bellies cannot transport hazardous materials and project cargo, two important sectors in air cargo flows.

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