FedEx poised to launch 777 converted freighter

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FedEx is considering acquiring second-hand Boeing 777s and signing up as launch customer for Boeing's 777 passenger-to-cargo conversion programme next year.

FedEx CEO David Bronczek told Flightglobal during a 22 September ceremony marking the delivery of the carrier's first 777 production freighter that the carrier is looking to make a decision on the 777 Boeing Converted Freighter (BCF) "sometime next year". Bronczek says the 777 is "a perfect plane for us as a production freighter and as a converted freighter".

The US carrier, which has 29 additional 777 freighters on order plus 15 options, revealed earlier this year in a regulatory filing that it has been talking to Boeing regarding the 777 BCF. Flightglobal reported last week that Boeing was looking at offering conversions for the 777-200 and/or 777-200ER starting as early as the first quarter of next year.

FedEx air operations division vice president planning and performance Robert Rachor says the carrier is looking at the 777-200 to replace DC-10-10s and the 777-200ER to replace DC-10-30s. The new 777Fs, which are based on the larger 777-300ER/-200LR, are aimed at replacing FedEx's MD-11s.

"We're doing a lot of fleet studies now," Rachor says, adding FedEx typically "looks at everything".

According to Flightglobal's ACAS database, FedEx currently operates 61 DC-10-10s, 12 DC-10-30s and 58 MD-11s. FedEx refers to its DC-10s as MD-10s because in converting the aircraft from passenger configuration it has installed a cockpit common to the MD-11.

Rachor says now FedEx uses its MD-10-10s in its US domestic network while the MD-10-30s are used domestically and on international services to Latin America and the Caribbean. MD-11s are used on long-haul intercontinental routes.

FedEx already parked four MD-10-10s earlier this year. Rachor says these aircraft have been written off and more MD-10-10s will be retired as FedEx takes delivery of its 777Fs. The 777Fs are replacing MD-11s on intercontinental routes but these MD-11s are being redeployed domestically, leading to the retirement of a mix of MD-10-10s and 727s.

While FedEx is now looking at more MD-10 retirements and the 777 BCF could be an ideal replacement for the remaining aircraft, Rachor stresses FedEx currently has no plans to entirely phase out its MD-10 fleet. "We'll be flying MD-10s for quite some time," Rachor says, adding FedEx will still be flying the type in 2020 "for sure".

In fact, Rachor points out that FedEx still has about five DC-10s in "the pipeline" to convert before it finishes with its MD-10 conversion programme. He says this last batch of DC-10s will be converted to MD-10 configuration at Aeronavali in 2010.

He says FedEx on 21 September also added to its operating certificate its 59th and final MD-11. FedEx has no plans to retire its MD-11s and sees an increasing role for the aircraft domestically as they are replaced by 777s internationally. Rachor says FedEx already uses about nine of its MD-11s domestically and believes there is enough demand to support more MD-11s domestically, especially as the US economy starts to recover.