The number of airplanes in the worldwide freighter fleet will increase by more than 80% during the next 20 years, as demand for air cargo services more than doubles.
Freighter airplanes are crucial to the overall health of the air cargo industry. Dedicated freighters provide reliable capacity to shippers of general cargo, mail and express packages, and cargo that cannot be accommodated in passenger airplane lower holds. Since 2001, freighter airplanes have carried on average just over 60% of the world's total air cargo traffic each year.
The role of large freighters will increase as the large freighter share of the fleet rises to 36% by 2031, compared to 31% today and 22% a decade ago. The significant efficiency and capability advantages of large freighters will enable carriers to manage projected traffic growth without increasing the number of airplanes proportionately.
About two-thirds of fleet additions for airplane replacement and fleet growth will come from modified passenger and combi airplanes. Yet, production freighters will continue to play an important role because their superior reliability, operating cost, and capability can outweigh the significant on-ramp acquisition cost advantages enjoyed by conversions.
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 projected traffic growth. Two-thirds of deliveries will be freighter conversions, 60% of which will be from standard-body passenger airplanes. Of the projected 935 new production airplane deliveries (valued at $250 billion 2011 US dollars), about three-fourths will be in the large freighter category.
Continuing a trend of many years in the Asia Pacific region, all-cargo and combination carriers will take the greatest number of large freighters, which are uniquely suited to long-haul, intercontinental markets. Express carrier networks will take the majority of medium widebody freighters, ideally sized to support high-yield, time-critical operations. Standard-body freighters will serve emerging regional and niche markets, as well as express markets.