Airbus has elevated its 20-year demand forecast for all-cargo aircraft, saying the market will need 2,800 specialized units to handle growth in international trade and e-commerce, 400 more than it estimated last year.
The European aircraft manufacturer predicts air cargo will double by 2038 based on a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 3.6%, up from last year’s CAGR estimate of 3.4%. Belly cargo is forecast to grow at a faster rate than main-deck freight – by 4.3% and 2.8% per year, respectively – corresponding to the faster growth of the passenger fleet. By 2038, 60% of freight will be carried by passenger aircraft, according to the new forecast.
Of the total dedicated freighters in service by then, Airbus now estimates that 2,500 would be newbuilds and converted passenger planes, with 60% of those replacing existing aircraft and the remainder representing incremental growth. Conversions would account for most of the fleet activity, supplemented by 850 newly manufactured planes, Airbus said in its Sept. 18 report. A year ago, the company saw 800 newbuild freighters on the horizon.
Most newbuild freighters – about 500 – are forecast to be in the mid-size freighter category, where aircraft payload ranges from 40 to 80 tons. Another 356 newbuild aircraft will be needed in the large category with payloads above 80 tons.
The airfreight market cooled off last year to about 4% growth and volumes have continued to slide throughout 2019. Nonetheless, trade is still strong enough to support existing capacity. Airbus said that as of mid-2019, storage levels for freighters were at a historic low of 6%. In 2009, amidst the Great Recession, nearly a quarter of the fleet was shut down. And only 30 aircraft were retired last year compared to the 10-year average of 108 aircraft per year.
The freighter fleet has grown for five consecutive years to an all-time high of 1,800 aircraft, an increase of 20% since the financial crisis.
Airbus estimates that the overall fleet would more than double to 47,680 aircraft in 20 years. The fleet size is nearly the same as predicted last year, but Airbus adjusted the expected airline demand based on new growth and replacement aircraft. It now estimates that 25,000 planes will handle new business, while 14,210 newbuilds will be replacements. That compares to 26,540 for growth reasons and 10,850 replacement aircraft in last year’s forecast. The balance of the fleet will be planes operating today that will still be in service.
In its biennial forecast last year, Boeing estimated that air-cargo traffic would grow 4.2% per year and that the freighter fleet would grow from 1,870 to 3,260 aircraft.
The growth in air traffic and fleets will create a need for 550,000 new pilots and 640,000 new technicians, Airbus said. Last year, Boeing forecast that the industry would require 790,000 pilots, double the current number. Its estimate for technicians was similar to Airbus’.