Boeing, one of the world's biggest aviation companies, has projected that air cargo traffic will double in the next two decades as the industry shifts its focus to evolving demand following the coronavirus pandemic.
The expansion will be supported by a 57 per cent growth in the global freighter fleet, which would put it at 3,600 aircraft, and will require about 2,800 new and converted freighters for growth and replacement until 2041, the Virginia-based company said in its World Air Cargo Forecast on Friday.
A third of deliveries will be new jets, while the remainder will come from conversions, giving carriers the ability to increase their flexibility in existing and emerging markets, it said.
“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's 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.”
Air cargo was a rare bright spot for airlines during the travel-starved years of the pandemic, prompting many to convert older passenger jets to freighters and to invest in new cargo planes.
Strong e-commerce demand and the slower return of passenger flights with cargo belly capacity drove airlines to snap up freighters during the pandemic.
Global air cargo demand in September fell 10.6 per cent from the same month in 2021, but continued to remain near pre-pandemic levels, the International Air Transport Association said in its latest monthly update.
Capacity during the month was 2.4 per cent above September 2021, but still 7.4 per cent below September 2019 levels, the last comparable period before the global health crisis began, it said.
“Increasing recession warnings are likely to have a negative impact on the global flows of goods and services, balanced slightly by a stabilisation of oil prices. Against this backdrop, air cargo is bearing up well,” Willie Walsh, Iata's director general, said in the report.
Cargo rates, meanwhile, are expected to stabilise and may even decline slightly, based on current demand, Nabil Sultan, divisional senior vice president at Dubai's Emirates SkyCargo, told The National this week.
The global air freight market is expected to be valued at about $391 billion in 2027, growing from $270.3bn in 2021 at a compound annual rate of 5.8 per cent, according to data from iMarc Group.
The Asia-Pacific region is expected to take delivery of almost 40 per cent of all freighters, including new and converted jets, the Boeing report said.
While dedicated freighters are 8 per cent of the total commercial fleet, they continue to carry more than half of all air cargo, with passenger planes carrying the remainder, it said.
In addition, operators would also need to transition into aircraft that are greener and more fuel-efficient in order to attain global standards and achieve sustainability goals, Boeing said.
“The tumultuous effects of the pandemic in the last two years have upended expectations and caused challenges for long-term planning and analysis,” Boeing said in the report.
“However, the overall aviation and aerospace industries remain resilient, and that extends to the air cargo market.”