The worldwide express fleet: Part II

Yesterday, we began a three-part look at the jet freighter fleet operated by, or for, the integrated express companies. Part I looked at the way the combined fleet has changed over time, but there were also significant changes on a company-by-company basis, and that is what we will examine today, starting with the smallest of the express companies. Tomorrow we will conclude with our view of how the fleet will evolve in the future.

Purolator: Canada-based Purolator has had a dedicated contract freighter fleet for almost twenty years. This fleet is used to transport Purolator-branded parcel and freight shipments, as well as to move mail for Canada Post (which owns 91% of Purolator). Until now, the fleet has been operated by Kelowna Flightcraft, but effective 1 April 2015, the Purolator/Canada Post flying was taken over by Cargojet, using a fleet made up of a mix of 757-200Fs, 767-200Fs and 767-300Fs. The fleet Kelowna operated for Purolator included thirteen 727- 200Fs. With those gone, there is now only a handful of this once-dominant type still flying for the integrators.

SF Express: SF Airlines, the Shenzhen-based air arm of China’s SF Express, continued its expansion, adding five freighters – three 737-300Fs and two 757-200Fs – bringing its total fleet to nineteen units. SF Express also buys considerable lift from a variety of Chinese airlines, including some main-deck space, but the exact number of freighters involved is not known. Three years ago, SF announced plans for rapid expansion, both of its own fleet and of purchased lift, and since then has added eleven freighters. It will add many more over the next few years, including five 767-300BCFs, eight 757-200Fs, and a reported eleven 737-300Fs/-400Fs.

China Post: This year, for the first time, we include China Postal Airlines in our analysis of the integrated operators’ fleets (and have adjusted previous-year comparisons accordingly). China Postal acquired its first jet freighter, a 737-300F, in 2003, and has steadily increased its fleet ever since, primarily with 737-300Fs but also with 737-400Fs, and more recently with 757-200Fs (operated on an ACMI basis by Air China Cargo).

TNT Express: TNT’s air operations will almost certainly undergo a radical change over the next few years if, as seems likely, the company is taken over by FedEx, but over the last year it was relatively stable. The company continued its recent trend of slightly reducing its fleet, primarily through the retirement of BAe 146QTs/QCs, and now uses just 40 jet freighters, some in its own air arms (TNT Airways and Spain-based Pan Air), and some operated by a variety of European ACMI providers, including Bluebird Cargo, Cygnus Air, Farnair, Jet Time, Pan Air (a TNT subsidiary), Swiftair, and Titan Airways. TNT’s fleet is down from 41 last year, with four 737-400Fs and one 737-300F joining the fleet, while five BAe 146s and one 757-200F departed. TNT has struggled over the past several years, and is concentrating its focus on its core European operations, which rely more on road transport than air. While there have been no recent announcements on the subject, we expect further retirements of BAe146s, and it would not be surprising to see the 747- 400ERFs go, as well. In addition to the freighters shown in the chart, TNT also operates two 747-400ERFs for Emirates on an ACMI basis, as well as a 757-200 in combi configuration for NATO, also on an ACMI basis.

FedEx: Looking at the bigger players, FedEx, which has slightly reduced its fleet in recent years, added a net of six units in the last year, bringing its total jet freighter fleet to 340. The overall change was the result of twenty-six additions and twenty retirements. FedEx continued the relentless growth of its 757-200F fleet, adding twelve units and bringing the total of the type to ninety-seven. It has also begun renewing its widebody fleet, adding fourteen 767-300Fs. On the retirement side of the FedEx fleet ledger were three A310-200Fs/-300Fs, three A300-600Fs, six MD-10-10Fs, two MD-10- 30Fs, and six MD-11Fs.

Looking ahead, FedEx says its fleet will shrink slightly over the next five years. According to its most recently published fleet forecast, FedEx will add 73 freighters over that five-year period, while retiring 94, as follows:

Assuming all these additions and retirements go as planned, FedEx will be operating 319 jet freighters in five years’ time, twenty-one fewer than today.

UPS: UPS is operating almost exactly the same fleet today as it was at this time last year, the only change being one additional 767-200F (operated on an ACMI basis by Star Air). This gives it a total fleet of 251 jet freighters, up from 250. UPS reduced its owned fleet to just five types several years ago, the lowest number of any of the big four integrators. In addition to its own fleet, UPS uses twelve 767-200Fs operated on its behalf by Denmark-based Star Air, and two 737-400Fs operated by Atran, a subsidiary of Russia-based Volga-Dnepr Group.

Unlike TNT and DHL, FedEx and UPS depend almost entirely on owned aircraft for their jet freighter lift, and they have, by a considerable margin, the world’s largest freighter fleets. Between them, the in-house airline units of these two companies operate some 35% of the world’s freighters – that is, more than one-third of the world’s freighter fleet is owned by just these two airlines.

DHL Express: DHL has the largest main-deck fleet outside of FedEx and UPS, and its operation is, by far, the most complex of any of the integrators. On its own, or through various joint-venture and ACMI arrangements, DHL has freighter operations in Europe, North America, Asia-Pacific, India, Latin America, and the Middle East. Its owned airlines include EAT Leipzig (the former European Air Transport), DHL Air (UK), DHL Airlines International Middle East, and DHL Aero Expresso (Panama). In addition, it has partial ownership in, or control of, various carriers, including AeroLogic, Air Hong Kong, Blue Dart Aviation, Polar Air Cargo, Tasman Cargo, and Vensecar. DHL also purchases ACMI support from numerous airlines, which it declines to name, but including ABX Air, Air Contractors, Air Ghana, Allied Air, ATI, Aviastar, Cargo Air, K-Mile, Kalitta Air, Raya Airways, Rio Linhas Aereas, Southern Air, and Swiftair.

DHL’s three biggest joint ventures are worth noting because they provide the company with such a substantial amount of lift:

All three of these joint-venture fleets operate primarily for DHL, providing widebody capacity between Asia and Europe (AeroLogic), Asia and North America (Polar), and intra-Asia (Air Hong Kong).

The exact number of freighters operated by and for DHL is always something of a mystery, as the company does not disclose detailed information about its air operations, but by our reckoning the total is up by nine, from 171 last year to 180 now. The additions, by type, include three 747-8Fs, three A300-600Fs, three 757-200Fs, and ten 737-400Fs; the subtractions include one 767-300F, two 767-200Fs, three 727-200Fs, three 737-300Fs and one 737-200F. Looking ahead, we believe DHL will continue to add 737-400Fs, as well as replace many of its older 757-200Fs with newly converted units.

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