Boeing predicts 5.2% annual cargo growth through 2031

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The global air cargo market is poised to grow by 5.2% annually during the next 20 years, says Boeing in a new forecast.

The airframer expects that the number of freighter aircraft in the global fleet to increase to 3,198 aircraft from 1,738 by 2031. Large freighters will comprise 36% of the fleet, up from 31% in 2012. Air cargo carriers will require 935 new aircraft and 1,820 passenger-to-freighter conversions to support the demand through 2031.

The Asia-Pacific region will drive much of the growth, with domestic China experiencing the highest rate of increased traffic at 8%. Intra-Asia traffic is projected to grow by 6.9%. Boeing says that routes from Asia to North America and Europe will see above-average traffic growth rates, as well as routes from Europe to the Middle East.

Boeing forecasts that fuel prices will remain volatile but relatively comparable to current rates.

The air cargo market has seen slow growth, at only 3.7% per year, since 2001, Boeing notes. However it says that economic growth, access to new markets and more efficient aircraft will drive growth in the long-term.

"Current industry uncertainty has brought a disparity of viewpoint concerning the future of the air cargo business, but economic activity - particularly world gross domestic product and industrial production - remains the key driver of the air cargo market," said Tom Crabtree, regional director of business development and strategic integration at Boeing Commercial Airplanes, in a statement. "Over the long term, indicators such as GDP [gross domestic product] growth at 3.2% and the need for greater operational efficiency will prevail in the marketplace."