Giant US aerospace group Boeing predicted on Tuesday, in the latest (2012/2013) edition of its biennial Boeing World Air Cargo Forecast, that the world’s gross domestic product (GDP) will nearly double over the next 20 years, driving strong growth in the global air freight market. This will result in an 84% increase in the number of cargo aircraft in service between now and 2031.
“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,” stated Boeing Commercial Airplanes business development and strategic integration regional director Tom Crabtree.
Although air freight saw a recovery in 2010, this was followed by a slight decline in 2011, a decline which has continued, to date, in 2012. However, Boeing expects this decline, and the wider economic uncertainty underlying it, to continue only in the near-term.
“Over the long term, indicators such as GDP growth at 3.2% and the need for greater operational efficiency will prevail in the marketplace,” he affirmed. “Air cargo is and will continue to be a vital tool for global business and commerce in the management of supply chains and bringing critical goods to market.” Over the 20-year forecast period, the group sees global air cargo growing at an average annual rate of 5.2%.
In consequence, the world cargo aircraft fleet will grow from the current level of 1 738 to 3 198 by 2031. Of the 2031 total, 36% will be large freighters such as the Boeing 747 and 777 – today, such aircraft account for 31% of the global air freighter fleet. Increased use of larger aircraft will allow operators to manage the increase in traffic without having to increase the sizes of their fleets by an equivalent percentage.
Of the new freighter aircraft that will enter service over the next 20 years, 935 will be new-build aeroplanes (worth $250-billion), but 66% of the fleet (1 820 aircraft) will come from cargo conversions of existing passenger aircraft. A number of these aircraft will, of course, replace existing freighter aircraft.