Air cargo will grow by an average of 5.2 percent annually over the next 20 years, according to Boeing. The U.S. airframer’s World Cargo Forecast 2012/13, published on October 3, predicts that the global freighter fleet will expand to nearly 3,200 aircraft by 2031. Boeing’s forecast is based on the assumption that worldwide gross domestic product will nearly double over the 20-year forecast period. It says this trend will be driven by liberalization of markets and reduced air-freight costs based on more efficient aircraft and infrastructure improvement.
Routes serving cities in the Asia-Pacific region will be critical to this projected growth, with domestic Chinese services expected to see annual growth of around 8 percent and other intra-Asian traffic achieving 6.9-percent growth. Boeing’s forecasters say that services connecting North America and Asia, Europe and South Asia, and Europe and the Middle East will generate above-average growth rates.
By contrast, the latest report on airline profitability from the International Air Transport Association sees a weakening cargo market in the short term, and this is particularly marked for Asia-Pacific carriers. The group’s October 1 report showed that air-freight volumes over the course of 2012 are expected to be 0.4 percent down on 2011.
Boeing acknowledges the short-term grounds for pessimism but insists that recovery is just around the corner. “Current industry uncertainty has brought a disparity of viewpoint concerning the future of the air cargo business, but economic activity—particularly world gross domestic product and industrial production—remains the key driver of the air cargo market,” said Tom Crabtree, regional director for business development and strategic integration with Boeing Commercial Airplanes. “Over the long term, indicators such as GDP growth at 3.2 percent and the need for greater operational efficiency will prevail in the marketplace.”
Of the 3,198 freighters Boeing expects to see in the world fleet by 2031, widebodies (including its 747 and 777) will represent 36 percent of the total (up from 31 percent in 2012). Increased demand for freighters will be met by 935 new aircraft (valued at $250 billion) and 1,820 passenger airliners converted for cargo use.