Older freighter aircraft retirements have accelerated during the past 10 years due to weak demand, more passenger aircraft belly capacity and high fuel prices, according to Eddy Pieniazek, global head of consultancy at Flightglobal advisory service Ascend.
However, although there are fewer active aircraft today, the widebody share of the freighter fleet has grown, said Pieniazek during the Ascend 2020 Webcast: 2013 the year of the Snakes (and Ladders).
"The total number of active freighters has been declining for the past 10 years. This active fleet may have flat-lined for the last 3 or 4 years, but it is down by 9%, almost 300 aircraft, during the 10 years," he says.
The Russian- and Eastern-built freighter fleet has declined by more than 40% in the last 10 years, according to Pieniazek. "There are far fewer Antonovs, Ilyushins and Tupolevs in active service today. No real surprises, bearing in mind their age, fuel efficiency and reliability, although we should add the IL-76 is still going strong," he says.
He also notes the narrowbody freighter fleet has decreased during the past 10 years by 31%, or nearly 250 aircraft.
"The 727s, DC-8s, DC-9s and 707s may have gone, but there's not been a rush to replace them like for like. Some of the cargo has migrated to trucks, and some to the belly holds of passenger aircraft."
The widebody fleet, on the other hand, is up by 38%, almost 300 aircraft, he says. "Widebodies provide volume and potentially better unit costs over the longer distances that are more typical of today's cargo market growth trends."
He also notes a "couple of rules of thumb" have gone out of the window regarding freighter aircraft.
"Cargo aircraft do retire; there once was a time when cargo aircraft were expected to live forever. Also putting a door in the side no longer guarantees a long extended life in which to recover the investment," he says. "Some aircraft have already been scrapped or stored within a few years of being converted, so choosing the right aircraft for conversion has never been more crucial."