Freighter numbers set to double to meet air cargo demand

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World-wide air freight traffic will grow by an average of 4.8 per cent annually over the next 20 years, according to the new Cargo Global Market Forecast from Airbus.

And that will almost double the required global freighter fleet to some 2,700 new and converted aircraft. Over half of these will be needed for fleet replacement – driven by current old aircraft retirements – with the remainder being for growth.

Andreas Hermann, Airbus’ vice president, head of freighters said: “Looking forward after a difficult few years, world trade is showing improvements and diverse emerging markets will call for increased flexibility in air cargo transport – for which mid-size freighters will be the primary means to achieve this.”

Much of the growth will be driven by expansion in the Asia-Pacific region (including India and China). This currently represents 36 per cent of the world freight traffic, increasing to 42 per cent by 2032. Overall, China is the single largest individual nation driving air cargo growth.

China’s share currently represents 15 per cent, and by 2032 this will rise to around 22 per cent of the global air freight market. By comparison, the combined developed nations’ share in Europe/CIS and North America accounted for 51 per cent of the total traffic in 2012, and although traffic will continue to grow, by 2032 their combined share of total world freight traffic will reduce slightly, to around 45 per cent.

Airbus forecasts a boom in mid-size freighters, whose inherent flexibility allows airlines to adapt to changing markets. These currently represent about 45 per cent of the fleet in service and are increasingly used for regional express services and regional and long-haul general cargo operations.

Their numbers are expected to boom in the coming years driven by growth in emerging markets, especially in China. The mid-size segment is expected to grow to over 1,290 units by 2032, up from 744 units at the end of 2012. In doing so, this category will retain its dominant 45 per cent share of the world freighter fleet.

Meanwhile, large freighters represent about 32 per cent of the fleet today and are mainly used on long-haul operations between three main markets: USA, Europe and Asia. Airbus forecasts that the fleet of large aircraft will reach over 1,000 aircraft by 2032, while slightly increasing its share of the world freighter fleet.

Small freighters currently account for about 23 per cent of the fleet today and although the express freight market boom in China and India will boost the number of small freighters from 380 in 2012 to more than 600 aircraft by 2032, their overall proportion of the world fleet will nevertheless decrease slightly, to around 21 per cent.

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