The worldwide express fleet

There are more 757-200Fs in service than any other type of freighter. 757-200Fs  make up 28% of the integrated operator jet fleet.
There are more 757-200Fs in service than any other type of freighter. 757-200Fs make up 28% of the integrated operator jet fleet.

Today, we begin a three-part analysis of the worldwide express freighter fleet. Over the next two days will look at the fleet on a company-by-company basis, and conclude with our thoughts on how the fleet will evolve in the future.

But today we start with a look at the overall fleet of jet freighters used now by the integrated express operators, and how that fleet has changed over the years.

At the end of the first quarter of 2015, the combined fleet of jet freighter aircraft operated by or on behalf of the world’s major express companies stood at 871 units, accounting for almost 55% of the global freighter fleet. The 2015 total is up twenty-five units from this time last year, a 3.0% increase. Interestingly, the number today is also up just 3% from what it was in 2001.

However, the years since 2001 have been turbulent, and while the average annual change has been almost nil, the year-to-year changes have been huge. Beginning in 2004, the express fleet grew rapidly, peaking at 940 in early 2006, then fell back to 899 by the end of that year, reflecting the absorption of Menlo into UPS. This was followed by modest growth in 2007, but in late 2008 DHL abandoned the US domestic market, and by the beginning of 2009 the worldwide fleet had shrunk by 141 to just 787. The decline continued for another year, bottoming out at 766 in the first quarter of 2010, before returning to modest annual growth (up a total of 14% over the past five years).

But while the number of jet freighters operated by the integrators is similar to what it was at the beginning of the century, the available capacity has increased dramatically, as the express companies have moved from fleets dominated by narrowbodies to fleets dominated by widebodies. In 2002, for example, 62% of the 796 freighters in the integrators’ fleets were narrowbodies, vs. 38% widebodies. Compare that to the present fleet, in which the ratio is completely reversed, with narrowbody freighters now accounting for 39% of the 871 total units, while widebodies make up 61%.

Overall, the composition of the fleet did not change dramatically in the last year, although, in a slight reversal of the longtime trend, the twenty-five unit net increase was made up of eighteen narrowbodies and just seven widebodies. As shown in the chart at right, the biggest changes were the addition of twenty-three 757-200Fs, eighteen 767-300Fs, and fourteen 737-400Fs, along with the disappearance of sixteen 727-200Fs. Types seeing smaller additions include737-300Fs (up 3), 767-200Fs (up 4), and 747-8Fs (up 3), while types seeing modest declines include BAe 146s (down 5), A310-200/-300Fs (down 3), MD-10-10Fs (down 6), MD- 10-30Fs (down 3), and MD-11Fs (down 6). In all, 40 freighters were retired (22 narrowbodies and 18 widebodies), while 65 were added (40 narrowbodies and 25 widebodies).

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