Oct. 22--An analysis by Airbus shows global demand for 2,700 cargo aircraft, either purpose-built or converted from passenger planes, over the next two decades.
Despite the depressed state of air-freight traffic in recent years, Airbus now sees average annual growth of 4.8 percent over the next 20 years, requiring a near-doubling of the worldwide freighter fleet.
The projected growth will be driven by numerous global trends in economic activity, including world trade, private consumption and industrial production, according to the Cargo Global Market Forecast by Airbus.
More than half of the 2,700 aircraft will be needed for fleet replacement, driven by current aircraft retirements, with the rest deployed for growth.
Some 870 will be factory-built freighters worth about $234 billion, while 1,860 will be converted from passenger aircraft. A further 175 in 2032 will be aircraft already in service as freighters today.
Belly freight usage in passenger aircraft is taken into account and will remain largely unchanged at half of commercial air freight internationally.
"Looking forward after a difficult few years, world trade is showing improvements and diverse emerging markets will call for increased flexibility in air cargo transportation - for which mid-size freighters will be the primary means to achieve this," said Andreas Hermann, head of freighters at Airbus.
"This is why Airbus forecasts that the core of future freighter requirements will be in the mid-size category, where modern-technology freighters will play a large part in future fleet replacement and long-term growth."
Demand for air freight began rising slowly from April, in line with firming business confidence, as Europe and the US showed signs of economic recovery, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) reported this month.
Freight volume is only now reaching the level of 2011, when the cargo business peaked with revenue of $67 billion.
"This year, we expect $59 billion of revenues from air cargo globally," said IATA director-general Tony Tyler.
"That takes the top line back to 2007 levels. But to earn that revenue, we will be moving nearly 17 pecent more cargo and dealing with a 40 percent hike in jet fuel. The road ahead will be challenging."
Illustrating the rise of the emerging economies as the fastest-growing markets for air cargo, Asia-Pacific (including India and China) now represents 36 percent of world freight traffic and will increase to 42 percent by 2032, according to Airbus.
Overall, China is the nation driving air cargo growth: its share is 15 percent, and this will rise to 22 percent by 2032.
By comparison, the combined share for Europe/CIS and North America was 51 percent in 2012, and although traffic will continue to grow, by 2032 their share will fall to 45 percent.
Mid-size freighters, whose inherent flexibility lets airlines adapt to changing markets, represent 45 percent of the in-service fleet and are increasingly used for regional express services and regional and long-haul general cargo operations.
The mid-size segment is expected to grow to more than 1,290 aircraft by 2032, up from 744 at the end of 2012.
Meanwhile, large freighters represent 32 percent of today's fleet and are mainly used in long-haul operations for the US, Europe and Asia.
The fleet of large aircraft will surpass 1,000 by 2032, slightly increasing its share of the world freighter fleet.
The number of small freighters is expected to rise by 380 in 2012 to more than 600 aircraft by 2032, but their overall share in the world fleet will nevertheless decline from 23 percent to 21 percent.
Copyright 2013 - Bangkok Post, Thailand
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