FedEx contemplates acquiring more 757s

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FedEx is looking at extending its Boeing 757 passenger-to-freighter conversion programme beyond its current commitment for 87 aircraft.

The vice president of planning and performance at FedEx's air operations division, Robert Rachor, says the carrier has placed into service 13 757-200SFs and is now taking one aircraft per month from Singapore Technologies (ST Aero). During a Boeing 777 delivery ceremony this week in Everett, Rachor told ATI that FedEx is now actively evaluating the second hand 757 market for more aircraft but it has no firm timeframe for additional acquisitions.

Rachor adds FedEx is also still studying its fleet requirements to determine exactly how many 757s it needs over the long run. FedEx is using the 757 primarily to replace Boeing 727s in its domestic US network but the 757 in some markets may also be used to replace larger Airbus A300s and A310s.

According to Flightglobal's ACAS database, FedEx now operates 73 727s, 71 A300-600s and 60 A310s. Rachor says FedEx now plans to retire its last 727 in early 2015 but "it will be a while" before it retires its Airbus fleet.

FedEx quietly acquired 87 757s before contracting ST Aero last year to convert the aircraft. Rachor says FedEx wanted to have commitments for a "sizeable" amount in place before launching the programme in order to avoid spurring a spike in 757 values. He says 87 aircraft was a sufficient number to get the programme going but that does not mean 87 aircraft match FedEx's long-term requirement.

Industry sources say the 13 aircraft converted to date came from a mix of sources including US Airways, China Southern and First Choice. At the time there were not many 757s on the market but in recent months dozens of additional 757s have been parked, giving FedEx the opportunity to acquire more at potentially an attractive price.

The president of ST Aero's Mobile subsidiary, Joseph Ng, says there are now three active 757 conversions lines for FedEx at Mobile and one in Singapore. He says in Singapore there is additional tooling to expand the programme if there is demand. This tooling could also be shipped to Mobile to give the Mobile subsidiary additional 757 cargo conversion capacity.

While ST Aero is poised to benefit from any expansion of the FedEx programme, Ng says the maintenance firm is also now fielding inquires from several potential new 757-200SF customers, primarily in Europe and Asia.

Ng says it is now taking ST Aero about 120 days to convert each 757 with an additional 20 days to complete the cockpit upgrade. FedEx has decided to install head-up-displays in its 757s but Rachor says it will be another 18 to 24 months before enhanced flight vision system (EFVS) installations will begin.

FedEx last year began installing a new HUD with EFVS technology on its Boeing MD-10 fleet. Rachor says it has now completed the installation on about a dozen MD-10s and the carrier's entire MD-10 fleet should be outfitted with the infra-red vision system in about 18 months.

The carrier will then begin installing EFVS on its 757 fleet followed by its new fleet of Boeing 777s. Rochor says it takes time for FedEx to develop and test the system for each aircraft type and this effort is now underway for the 757.