Ari Egozi/TEL AVIV

Israel Aircraft Industries (IAI) has been approached by FedEx with a proposal for it to develop a turboprop-powered all-cargo aircraft to replace its fleet of 160 Boeing 727 freighters.

The proposed aircraft would be larger than the Ayres Loadmaster now under development for FedEx, and would be capable of carrying five standard-size cargo containers over distances of about 1,800km (1,000nm). The turboprop-powered Loadmaster is being designed to carry four half-sized containers.

While FedEx declines to comment on the discussions, IAI president Moshe Keret confirms that his company has been approached. "This is a very interesting proposal, but we are still in the early stages of evaluation," he says, adding that FedEx wants an aircraft designed specifically for the cargo mission, rather than one adapted from a passenger airliner. Keret says that the purposed-designed aircraft should be relatively low priced, costing around $10 million, and offer low operating costs.

This is similar to the brief given to Albany, Georgia-based Ayres, which is developing the $4.25 million Loadmaster.

FedEx, in return, has placed a firm order for 50 Loadmasters, plus options for up to 200 more. Sources says that the US package carrier is prepared to guarantee the purchase of "hundreds" of the larger turboprop-powered aircraft to replace its 727s.

IAI has been approached because of its experience in converting passenger aircraft to cargo configuration. "We are now assessing our ability to invest in the development of such an aircraft. This includes a possible joint venture with another company," says Keret. The proposed aircraft is likely to be a twin-turboprop. It is unclear whether other manufacturers have also been approached

The Loadmaster is powered by two LHTEC CTS800 turboshafts driving a single propeller. It will be used as a feeder aircraft, fitting into FedEx's fleet above the single-turboprop Cessna Caravan.

Source: Flight International