Eye on the horizon, a look at the future of the air cargo industry

The air cargo industry has expanded rapidly but will this continue in the future? Here’s a closer look at short and long term expectations.

The air transport industry is one which is evolving rapidly, and the future seems certain to continue to shift and change just as quickly. Nevertheless, the signs are positive that the air cargo industry will enjoy a period of expansion, notching up impressive growth as it absorbs digital and technological developments which are on the horizon.

That’s not to say that it will all be an easy ride, as there are some indicators that companies will need to endure turbulence during their journey. To reach the end destination is going to mean a willingness to adapt quickly, as well as form strategic partnerships in the industry.

Embracing the Digital Generation

The industry as a whole has been slow to fully embrace digitalization but moving forward, to stay afloat and competitive  companies will need to be able to bring their processes up to date. Customers demand fast shipping and transparent, accurate handling which can’t be offered with the traditional approach.

Switching to digital means being able to track goods far more efficiently, as well as being more environmentally friendly. Without having to resort to an enormous paper trail, companies are able to offer an affordable and responsive service that will edge out the competitors.

Any companies who don’t adapt to these changes will find newer companies picking up their business, with their use of technology. As an example, one report suggests that automation is the key, dropping the booking time from an hour to less than a minute. Legacy systems simply can’t compete with this level of service and those who aren’t willing to reshape their procedures simply won’t make it through the industrial revolution.

Maximizing E-commerce Opportunities


It will come as no surprise to anyone to hear that e-commerce is big business. In 2018 in the US, Amazon spent almost $14.3 million on shipping goods. Boeing reinforces the figures from the retailer, with £1.83 trillion spent  in e-commerce in 2017, which is expected to reach almost $4 trillion by 2021 and representing 17.5% of all global sales.

Air cargo has rocketed in popularity with retailers, due to the need to get items to the customer quickly. Cross border deliveries can reach the customer in just 72 hours, and this market is predicted to rise by 20% in the next three years.

However, although there is expected to be rapid expansion in the coming years, there will reach a point when the market plateaus. Companies offering air freight cargo need to consider a business strategy that reaches beyond the fruitful short-term, and into the more challenging long-term.

Emerging Markets

One of the areas which offers more potential for longer is within the markets which are far from fully established. Some of these, such as China, are already forecasting a requirement for a massive increase in air cargo capacity for the next two decades.

China has only just agreed on a scheduled trice-weekly cargo service to the US. This demonstrates that despite some trade tensions between the two nations, governments are still committed to developing an open global economy.

Emerging markets will play a fundamental role in this future, with areas such as India, the Middle East and Asia seeing an increase in air traffic cargo.

Autonomous technology?

While digitalization is a type of technology which is already here and being utilized, some companies are peering further into the future. Autonomous air cargo is one possibility that’s being explored but routine use still remains some way in the distance.

Boeing has already carried out test flights of unmanned cargo aerial vehicles (known as CAVs) with the intention of possibly using these as the basis for future unmanned flight services. This is just one step further than the drone deliveries that Amazon has mooted, a fascinating glimpse into the direction which technology may turn in the years ahead.

Continued Innovation and Appetite is Key


What’s clear from all of the above is that air cargo companies have the potential to tap a growing market but in order to do so, they’ll need to embrace everything that technology has to offer. From using smart systems and equipment to going green and opting for paperless procedures, there’s innovation at every step of the way for the industry.

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