Plane maker Boeing expects the freighter fleet to double over the next 20 years. In its Current Market Outlook 2011-2030, it projects the world freighter fleet to increase from 1,760 to 3,500 aeroplanes.
Air cargo traffic (based on revenue tonne-kilometres) is expected to grow at an average annual rate of 5.6 per cent over the next 20 years. Growing world trade, increasing demand for transport of perishable and time-sensitive commodities, and the need to replace aging aeroplanes will create a requirement for 2,960 freighter deliveries over the next 20 years.
About 1,990 of these will be conversions from passenger service, and 970 aeroplanes with a value of US$250 billion will be delivered new. The air cargo fleet will grow at an annual rate of 3.5 per cent, nearly doubling from 1,760 aeroplanes in 2010 to 3,500 in 2030.
The largest segment of this market by number of aeroplanes is standard-body freighters, with a total requirement for 1,220 aeroplanes, says Boeing. Aeroplanes converted from passenger to cargo have low capital costs that make them attractive for standard-body freight operations.
Of the 720 medium wide body freighters to be delivered during the forecast period, 280 will be new, purpose-built freighters. This freighter segment is largely driven by express carriers with time-sensitive cargo. The larger capacity of medium wide body versus standard-body freighters provides operating cost advantages in this market.
Though large freighters hold a greater economic advantage in range and tonne-kilometres, the lower trip costs of medium wide body freighters offer greater flexibility in the scheduling and frequency of shipments.
Boeing believes that in the large freighter segment, more than half of the demand will be for new aeroplanes. The purchase price of converted large freighters is very attractive, and conversions will continue to play an important supporting role.
However, the performance and reliability advantages of new, purpose-built freighters are significant for intercontinental cargo operations, where larger, heavier payloads and range are crucial. Of the 1,000 large freighter deliveries, 690 will be new aeroplanes.
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