The global express fleet — Part I: The 767 Dominates Express Fleet Growth

Once operated in modest numbers by TNT Airways, the BAe 146QT is no longer in service by or on behalf of any global express carriers.

Today, we begin a three-part analysis of the worldwide express freighter fleet. Part I offers 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. Part II delves into the fleets of relative newcomers to the industry, such as Amazon, SF Express and YTO Cargo Airlines. Part III concludes with a company-by-company overview of the three largest integrators, FedEx, UPS and DHL.

As of the beginning of June 2018, the combined fleet of jet freighter aircraft operated by or on behalf of the world’s major express companies stood at 1,018 aircraft, up fifty-four units, 5.6%, from the end of 2017’s first quarter (Note: We exclude express companies operating less than five aircraft).

While that rate is slower than the long-term annual growth rate of 6.9% for the express fleet, the interesting trend over the past five years, which has accelerated during the past 12 months, has been the increasing utilization of widebody aircraft in express fleets, adding more substantially to overall fleet capacity than to fleet size. The trend reversed fleet balances common in the early 2000s, when express fleets were comprised mainly of narrowbodies, and brings the express fleet distributions as of the beginning of June 2018 to 60.1% widebodies and 39.9% narrowbodies.

The total number of widebody aircraft operated by or on behalf of major express companies increased by forty aircraft over the past year, compared to an increase of fourteen narrowbody aircraft, thanks to the gross addition of thirty-three 767-300 freighters, (see chart at right). Amazon’s Prime Air fleet grew substantially during the past year, almost doubling the number of 767-300Fs in operation, while FedEx added twelve 767-300Fs and UPS added two.

On the narrowbody side, the 757-200F retained its place as the preferred aircraft – not only among narrowbodies, but overall, representing about 28% of the total express fleet. Most of those operate for FedEx and UPS, but the majority of 757-200F additions found their way into the fleets of Chinese express carriers. Since the first quarter of 2017, SF Airlines, China Postal Airlines, and YTO Express added seven, three, and two of the freighters, respectively, to their fleets.

Overall, major express carriers operating in 2018 added a net of fifty-four freighters to their fleets since the first quarter of 2017. During the same period, a number of aircraft, mostly narrowbodies were retired or transferred to other airlines. The most notable influence was FedEx’s acquisition of TNT Express and the subsequent transfer of TNT Airways to ASL Airlines. Although ASL Airlines continues to operate much of the form former TNT fleet on behalf of FedEx, eight BAe 146s and five 737-300Fs are no longer utilized by FedEx.

Join us next week for Part II where we’ll provide an analysis of the growing fleets of relative newcomers to the industry, such as Amazon, SF Express and YTO Cargo Airlines.


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