With capacity at a premium, early deliveries of factory-built ATR 72-600Fs and Cessna SkyCourier 408 freighters to FedEx could be used to temporarily flex capacity, rather than to modernize it, as was previously planned.
During a session on regional operations in North America at this year’s Cargo Facts Symposium, Scot Struminger, senior vice president of business operations and express technology at FedEx Express, noted that the increased demand from the pandemic and the acceleration of e-commerce during 2020 has “put a squeeze” on regional capacity. “These [new] airplanes were planned for modernization to retire older aircraft, but you know, if we have to keep those [older] aircraft in service for another six months, it doesn’t change the game significantly for us,” he said.
The feeder aircraft fleet operating on behalf of FedEx supports timely express deliveries to fairly remote locations, which has become more challenging for aviation during 2020. However, the simultaneous, rapid e-commerce growth driven by lockdowns and store closures has required operators to bolster networks serving those markets.
“If you think about our e-commerce forecast, we had a forecast for three years from now that actually materialized in three months,” said Struminger. “So what we projected to be our volumes three years out showed up literally overnight.” While FedEx has been able to adjust its schedule and fleet to accommodate the demand, regional feeder networks are “a place where, frankly, the industry could use more capacity.”
FedEx has placed launch orders with ATR and Textron for new regional production freighters. They included thirty firm-orders and twenty options for ATR 72-600Fs, as well as fifty firm orders for Textron’s new Cessna SkyCourier 408 with options for another fifty. Both types made their first test flights during the third quarter of this year. The new aircraft will modernize the current fleet of regional freighters operating on behalf of FedEx, which include converted ATR 42 and ATR 72 freighters, as well as Cessna 208s.