Boeing forecasts air cargo traffic to double by 2041

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by Emily Atkins

Boeing is forecasting strong demand for air cargo services through 2041, with traffic doubling and the world’s freighter fleet expanding by more than 60 percent.

Boeing shared details from its 2022 World Air Cargo Forecast (WACF), a biennial detailed analysis of evolving industry dynamics, at The International Air Cargo Association forum in Miami.  

Against the context of current demand, that saw revenues 70 percent higher for air cargo in 2021 than they were in 2019 and is maintaining those levels in 2022, the new WACF projects that the world’s cargo fleet will require nearly of 2,800 production and converted freighters for growth and replacement through 2041. With cargo traffic doubling over the forecast period, operators will need to switch to more capable, fuel-efficient and sustainable jets like the 777-8 Freighter to meet demand.

A third of deliveries will consist of new production freighters, while the remaining two-thirds will be freighter conversions, such as the 737-800 Boeing Converted Freighter (BCF), providing airlines with increased flexibility in existing and emerging markets. 

“While the air cargo market is returning to a more normal pace after historic demand in the last two years, structural factors including express network growth, evolving supply chain strategies and new cargo-market entrants are driving sustained freighter demand,” said Darren Hulst, Boeing vice-president of commercial marketing. “In the global transportation network, air freighters will continue to be a critical enabler to move high-value goods, in increased volume across expanding markets.” 

Hulst added that the average yield for air cargo almost remains twice as high, as pre-pandemic. In August it was slightly higher than the pandemic average. “The transatlantic market, even with that belly capacity back in the market, remains well above pre-pandemic levels. And you can see the same thing in the Europe to Asia market, which has been somewhat impacted by less capacity provided by historically by Russian carriers,” Hulst noted.

“The story here is even with easing volumes in the air cargo sector, you’re still seeing significantly higher average yields, which is providing a revenue environment, which is still remarkably stronger than what existed in pre-pandemic times. And I think structurally we’re seeing how important and how strategic air cargo continues to be and will remain,  not just for a year or two, but  throughout the next decades.”

The Asia-Pacific region will take delivery of nearly 40 percent of all freighters, including new and converted freighters through the forecast period to 2041.

While dedicated freighters are eight percent of the total commercial airplane fleet, they continue to carry more than half of all air cargo, with passenger airplanes carrying the remainder as belly cargo.  

The global freighter fleet will grow by more than 1,300 airplanes to more than 3,600 jets over the next two decades.