Boosted by fast-growing emerging economies, global air freight traffic is expected to grow at a clip of 4.8 per cent per annum over the next two decades, which will nearly double the global freighter fleet to close to 3,000 aircraft, according to Airbus' global cargo market forecast.
The European plane maker projects that overall air cargo demand will see a need for 2,700 new and converted aircraft by 2032 for both fleet replacement and growth, while an additional 175 will be aircraft which are already in service.
Belly freight usage in passenger aircraft - making up about half of commercial air freight on international routes - has also been taken into account.
Of the 2,700 or so planes, 870 planes worth some US$234 billion are estimated to be factory-built and 1,860 are expected to be converted from passenger aircraft.
The Asia-Pacific, which holds a 36 per cent share of global cargo traffic, will account for 42 per cent of the pie by 2032.
China - the single biggest driver of growth - will hold a 22 per cent share, up from 15 per cent. In contrast, the European and North American markets, which hold a 51 per cent share of the global freight market, will see their market share slip to 45 per cent by 2032, Airbus said.
"Looking forward, after a difficult few years, world trade is showing improvements and diverse emerging markets will call for increased flexibility in air cargo transportation - for which mid-size freighters will be the primary means to achieve this," said Andreas Hermann, vice-president of Airbus and head of freighters.
"This is why Airbus forecasts that the core of future freighter requirements will be in the mid-size category, where modern-technology freighters will play a large part in future fleet replacement and long-term growth."