The executive chairman of FedEx Express (FX, Memphis Int'l) has confirmed that the cargo specialist is planning to place new aircraft orders in the next couple of years and is talking to Boeing and Airbus about candidate aircraft types. Also under active consideration is a program to acquire and convert B777-300(ER) into freighters.

Speaking to Leeham News & Analysis, Fred Smith said Boeing had shown him concepts of the B787F and New Midsize Airplane Freighter (NMA-F). Smith is also keen on a freighter variant of the A321-200neo and the A350F, saying it is a plane FedEx would "consider in the future."

According to the ch-aviation fleets advanced module, FedEx has a fleet of 424 aircraft, including 41 that are inactive. The ranks of inactive planes are set to grow as FedEx begins parking more as the demand for air freight begins to slow. FedEx flies aircraft from seven family types, including A300s, MD-10Fs, MD-11Fs, B757Fs, B767Fs, B777S, and a solitary ATR42-300(F).

Of FedEx's sixty-seven A300s, one is an A300-600(F), forty-two are A300-600Fs, and twenty-four are A300-600R(F)s. Additionally, FedEx has fifty-eight MD-11Fs and nine ACVs!DC1030Fs although the MD-10-11s are due to exit the fleet in 2023. There are also 108 B757-200(SF)s, fifty-two B777-200Fs, and 119 B767-300Fs.

Complicating the fleet decision-making process at FedEx is the imminent cessation of B767 and B777 production. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) said last year that it would adopt International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) standards that will see the production of the B767s and B777s end in 2028. Both fleet types at FedEx are relatively young. The average age of the B767F fleet at the airline is 4.4 years while the average age of the B777Fs is 7.8 years.

In the absence of any policy change or extension at the FAA, that sees the yet-to-enter-production B787F and NMA-F shape up as successor aircraft to the B767F and B777F. Smith notes that the dual aisle design in the NMA-F would take the same sized container as the B767F.

Acknowledging the pluses of the A350F, including its fuel efficiencies, Smith seems to have a lean towards Boeing because of the operational and flying commonalities with the existing planes. But with the B787F or NMA-F still years off flying, converting B767-300(ER)s into freighters is a stopgap solution FedEx is considering. But Smith says there is a shortage of the planes available for conversion and their high fuel burn and high emissions count against them.

The executive chairman's optimum outcome is a waiver from the FAA to allow B767 production to continue beyond 2028, even if only for US customer airlines. Alternatively, Boeing could make a decision about the B787F and NMA-Fs and begin moving at least one type towards production.