The regional freighter fleet in 2018

FedEx is the launch customer for ATR’s 72-600F production freighter, with an order for thirty of the aircraft and an option for up to twenty more.

Today we begin a multi-part analysis of the worldwide fleet of regional freighter aircraft in commercial service, beginning with some background information and then breaking down the fleet by type and operator.

This year, we are expanding our traditional turboprop freighter fleet analysis to include two small jet aircraft that play a role in the regional air cargo and express industry.

However, even taking into account the increasingly popular CRJ200F, the number of regional freighters has declined over the past twelve months. Excluding the fourteen regional jet freighters included in this year’s analysis but not in 2017’s analysis, the turboprop freighter fleet now totals 175 units, for a decline of 8.4%. However, with the growing number of jet freighters, and particularly CRJ200Fs, in regional operations, this year’s analysis also includes the CRJ200F and BAe 146-300QT, bringing the total number of regional freighters in our analysis to 189 from last year’s 191, for a smaller decrease of 1.0%.

The slight loss in the regional freighter fleet from 2017 to 2018 is typical of the past ten-plus years. As far back as the recession in 2008 and 2009, the large express carriers cut off fleet expansions as package volume growth stalled. Growth resumed in 2009 after 2008’s scaling back, and has continued since then, particularly in China. But, in line with Cargo Facts’ prediction of three years ago, growing express feeder service in Asia has been met by narrowbody jet freighters – particularly 737s and 757s – rather than turboprops or small jets. Most of the world’s turboprop and small jet freighters operate in Europe and North America, and those fleets have remained relatively stable. However, we have also said that growing domestic and intra-regional demand in the Asia-Pacific express market would lead that region’s share of the regional freighter fleet to increase gradually. That has so far not materialized, as carriers have instead built up their narrowbody jet freighter fleets.

Also notable in this year’s analysis is the growing importance of ATR 72 freighters. Over the years, many of the older ATP and ATR 42 turboprop freighters have been phased out, and the overall fleet makeup is increasingly favoring newer ATR 72 freighters. Of the twenty-six ATP freighters operating at this time last year, only fifteen are still operating today. The number of ATR 42 freighters in operation has also fallen from forty-three last year, to thirty-six. In addition to the gradual addition of converted ATR 72Fs to the fleet, the freighter will soon make up an even greater portion of the overall fleet, thanks to the introduction of an ATR 72-600 production freighter. FedEx signed on as the launch customer late last year with an order for thirty production freighters and an option for twenty more.

In taking a closer look at the freighter fleet’s distribution across regions, the majority (53.4%) are operated by European carriers, mostly under contract to integrators or postal services. However, the distribution has shifted even from last year, when European carriers accounted for nearly 60% of the turboprop freighter fleet. US- and Canada-based carriers make up virtually the same share of the fleet as last year, at 27.5%, while the rest of the world’s share has grown from 13% in last year’s analysis to 19% this year.

The chart below shows the distribution of the important regional freighter types in the makeup of the current and future fleet. There are hundreds of smaller aircraft (including Cessnas, Beechcraft, Metros, and others) in use as freighters, but they are beyond the scope of this article. Older types, such as Shorts 330/360s and F27s, are also still in use as freighters, but their increasing age ensures that the newer types will gradually replace them.

In Part II of this analysis, we will look more closely at the turboprop freighters in the regional freighter fleet, on a type-by-type basis.

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