Air Cargo Market

Remarkable air cargo traffic stability

Despite an unusually challenging environment over the past several years, air cargo remains indispensable for a variety of industries that require transport of time-sensitive commodities. These commodities include perishables; high-value, low-weight goods including consumer electronics; high-fashion apparel; pharmaceuticals; industrial machinery; and high-value intermediate goods such as auto parts. The speed and punctuality advantages of air freight ensure that it will continue to play a significant role in the global economy.

Both dedicated freighters and passenger airplane lower holds carry air cargo. Cargo capacity on passenger flights has been expanding as airlines deploy new jetliners, such as the 777-300ER, that have excellent cargo capability. Dedicated freight services, however, offer shippers a combination of reliability, predictability, and control over timing and routing that lower-hold cargo operations can't often match. Thus, freighters consistently account for roughly 60 percent of global air cargo traffic.

Air cargo traffic, as measured in revenue tonne-kilometers (RTK), is projected to average 5.0 percent growth per year over the next 20 years, as global GDP and world trade return toward historic growth rates. Replacement of aging airplanes, plus the industry's growth requirements, will create a demand for 2,300 freighter deliveries over the same period. About 1,450 of these will be passenger airplane conversions. The remaining 850 airplanes, valued at $240 billion, will be new. The freighter fleet will increase by more than half, from 1,730 airplanes in 2012 to 2,810 in 2032.

All standard-body freighters will be conversions

Boeing forecasts a requirement for 940 standard-body freighters, all passenger conversions, which are attractive for standard-body operations due to their low capital cost. Demand will be especially strong in emerging markets.

Express carriers drive medium widebody demand

About one-third of the 590 medium widebody freighters delivered during the forecast period will be new purpose-built freighters. This freighter market is driven by express carriers that mitigate the lower economic efficiency of medium widebodies with higher yields. Competition from less expensive surface transport and passenger airplane lower-hold capacity constrains the use of medium widebody freighters in regional markets.

Intercontinental operations favor new, large freighters

The performance, efficiency, and reliability of new, purpose-built freighters outweigh the lower purchase prices for converted large freighters, especially for intercontinental operations, where high cargo density, larger payloads, and extended range are crucial. Thus, of the 770 large freighter deliveries, more than 80 percent will be new airplanes.