The global express fleet — Part III

Last week, we began our 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. Yesterday, in Part II we examined the fleets of relative newcomers to the industry, such as Amazon, SF Express, and YTO Cargo Airlines. Today Part III concludes with a company-by-company overview of the three largest integrators, FedEx, UPS, and DHL.

In examining the large integrators, one change reflected in this year’s fleet analysis is the merging of TNT Express into FedEx, following 2016’s acquisition of TNT by FedEx. That merger is now complete, with all TNT operations in Europe now falling officially under the FedEx brand, while Ireland-based ASL Aviation Group has taken over TNT Airways and Pan Air operations in Europe.

A sign of the times for booming e-commerce businesses across several continents, FedEx has continued to grow its already impressive fleet since Q1 2017, adding a net of forty-four freighters to its operations. FedEx continues to operate the largest express  – and that doesn’t even include the hundreds of turboprops operated on behalf of the carrier. FedEx’s jet freighter fleet stands at 408 units, just over a quarter of which are 757-200Fs.

In recent years, FedEx has downsized the number of A310-300Fs, MD-10-10Fs, and MD-10-30Fs operating in its network, as part of its fleet renewal plans. During the same time, FedEx has increased its 767-300F fleet from forty-five to fifty-seven aircraft and added four 777 freighters and an additional 757-200F. We can likely expect to see continued growth from FedEx over the next couple of years, considering that during the earnings call for its Q3 2018 fiscal year, FedEx told investors it had reached an agreement with Boeing to accelerate delivery of another 777F to FY 2019. FedEx, in its SEC filing, indicates that it is committed to fifty-nine more 767-300 freighters and twelve 777 freighters with Boeing, which is four 767-300Fs and six 777Fs beyond what Boeing shows in its order book.

Turning to UPS, which boasts the second-largest of the express fleets, we see a more positive growth story than last year. While UPS’ fleet had barely changed during the twelve months before the end of last year’s first quarter – the company added one 767-300F and retired an MD-11F – since then, UPS has added a net of seven aircraft to its jet freighter fleet, for a total of 258. Along with its own fleet, UPS uses a 737-300 freighter operated by Iceland-based Bluebird Nordic, fourteen 767 freighters operated on its behalf by Denmark-based Star Air, and two 737-400 freighters, one each operated by ASL Ireland and Bulgaria-based Cargo Air.

Over the past year, UPS added a 767-300F and – the big change – five 747-8 freighters, a new type for the UPS fleet. The new freighter capacity is arriving just in time, as UPS reported its first-quarter volumes up substantially for all its products, except the low-yield International Domestic category.

And to meet that growth, there are many more freighters on the way, considering that, early this year, UPS exercised its options for fourteen 747-8Fs, doubling its original fourteen-unit order with Boeing to twenty-eight. Along with the 747-8F options, UPS added a new order for four 767-300 freighters. Together, the fleets of FedEx and UPS combined comprise more than two-thirds of the total worldwide express fleet.

The last of the major express operators, and the one with by far the most complicated fleet, is DHL, which, through its own operations, joint ventures, and ACMI operations, offers express freighter service in North America, Europe, Latin America, the Middle East, India, and the Asia-Pacific region. DHL’s owned airlines include EAT Leipzig (formerly European Air Transport), DHL Air UK, DHL Airlines International Middle East, India-based Blue Dart Aviation, and DHL Aero Expreso in Panama. DHL also has partial ownership in carriers such as AeroLogic, Air Hong Kong, Polar Air Cargo, Tasman Cargo, and Vensecar. Further, ACMI operations on behalf of DHL are undertaken by airlines including ABX Air, Air Ghana, Allied Air, ASL Group, ATI, Aviastar, Bluebird Nordic, Cargo Air, K-Mile, Kalitta Air, Raya Airways, Southern Air, and Swiftair.

The exact number of freighters operated by or on behalf of DHL is difficult to determine, as the company does not publish detailed information on its air operations. However, Cargo Facts believes the total number of freighters in DHL’s express network has increased by nineteen since the end of 2017’s first quarter. Notable additions to the fleet include three 737-300Fs, five 737-400Fs, five 767-300Fs, two 777Fs, and three 747-400Fs.

The first-ever A330-300 freighter — converted by EFW for DHL Express.

Also, of course, there are two new A330-300 freighters that have joined DHL’s operations since last year. The aircraft are the first A330-300 passenger-to-freighter conversions to come from the EFW joint venture of ST Aerospace/Airbus, which originally announced the conversion program in 2012 and delivered the first converted aircraft (116, ex-Malaysia Airlines) to launch customer DHL in December of last year. DHL certainly required the additional capacity, and even delayed the usual trip to the paint shop for the freighter until the end of peak season. Beyond the two that have been delivered, DHL has six other A330-300P2Fs on order with EFW, with options for ten more conversions.

Along with the freighters listed in the charts on p. 11, others are in service to the companies discussed here, as well as to other companies that are not pure express operators but still have an express arm of their business – including, for example, All Nippon Airways in Japan, which operates twelve 767-300 freighters, many of them carrying freight fitting the express category. The growth of express freight among express and other cargo operators seems likely to continue while the global e-commerce business keeps up its current growth trajectory. Regardless of what e-commerce shoppers are ordering and in which country they live, they want their orders as quickly as possible. While additional own-network operations by e-commerce giants are potentially on the horizon, in the meantime, express operators are bound to continue finding demand for space aboard their growing fleets of freighters.

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