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Air cargo operators have typically used older, less fuel-efficient aircraft compared to the passenger sector. A combination of the positive outlook for the air cargo industry, increased focus on environmental issues, and favorable economic factors (such as the depressed pricing for feedstock aircraft), will result in increased investment in the sector and an acceleration in the adoption of newer and cleaner technology. Much of that investment will focus on the emerging markets, where air freighter fleet sizes are expected to grow the most.
How the global freighter fleet looks today
The global air freighter fleet has grown significantly since the COVID-19 pandemic struck. As noted above, this has been driven in part by the very rapid decrease in belly cargo capacity, which reached its nadir in April 2020. Since then, global passenger aircraft use has increased gradually but remains below pre-pandemic levels.
In terms of aircraft types, the air freighter market has been gradually adopting more modern aircraft types (such as the Boeing 737-800 and Airbus A321-200) and phasing out older aircraft (such as the Boeing 737-300 and McDonnell MD-10).
However, some older aircraft types (such as the Boeing 747-400) have been reactivated to cater to the increased demand caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, although this is likely to be a relatively short-term solution (until demand settles post-COVID and newer aircraft become available).
The following tables show the make-up of the current global air freighter fleet. The data below has been obtained from IBA and is current as of February 2021.
- Since May 2020, all aircraft fleets have increased with the exception of the Boeing 737-700 and McDonnell Douglas MD-10.
- The Boeing 737-800 fleet has grown most significantly since May 2020 (by 243 percent).
- Since May 2020, all aircraft fleets have increased with the exception of the Airbus A310-300 and McDonnell Douglas MD-10.
- The Airbus A330 fleet has grown most significantly since May 2020 (by 176 percent).
- Since May 2020, all aircraft fleets have increased with the exception of the Boeing 747-100.