In a report released yesterday at the TIACA Air Cargo Forum, Boeing said it expects the global demand for air freight will double over the next two decades, averaging about 4.2 percent annual growth over that period – a figure that brings the market closer to its pre-recession average of 5 percent growth per year, but still far less than the 9 percent growth rate for.

To handle this demand, the aviation giant said in its latest World Air Cargo Forecast that air cargo operators will need more than 2,600 freighters built between now and 2037. That figure will include 980 new medium- and large-scale freighters, plus 1,670 converted freighters to both replace aging metal and expand the worldwide fleet to meet the demand.

“The air cargo market continues to be a major element of commercial aviation’s growth story,” said Darren Hulst, managing director of market analysis and sales support at Boeing Commercial Airplanes. “Our new forecast indicates strong long-term air cargo trends, which coincide with the market recovery that we have seen over the last few years across Europe, North America, and Asia.” Hulst cited the staggering growth of the express market in China and the global rise of the US$5 trillion e-commerce market, which Boeing said it expects to increase by 20 percent each year through 2021.

Despite reports from Airbus that belly cargo demand has been surging in recent years, Hulst said dedicated widebody freighters, which “provide unique capabilities that passenger belly cargo cannot match,” will continue to carry more than 50 percent of the world’s air cargo demand, according to Boeing’s forecast.

The forecast, Hulst said, already factors in the effects of potential pilot shortages in certain regions of the world. “We don’t see any significant trends that could change our predictions globally,” he told the TIACA audience. “But maybe in some spots it could have an effect.”