US FREIGHT giant FedEx and McDonnell Douglas (MDC) have launched the MD-10 programme with an agreement covering conversion of a minimum of 60 (MDC) DC-10s to two-crew cockpit configuration (Flight International, 3-9 July).

The two-phase MD-10 project was launched after a complex deal valued at around $600 million was signed between MDC, FedEx, avionics supplier Honeywell and United Airlines.

Under the agreement, United will sell 36 DC-10-10s to FedEx for conversion to MD-10s. The first phase will begin in early 1997 when the initial ex-United aircraft become available for basic passenger-to-freighter conversion. In return, FedEx will supply high- gross-take-off weight Stage 3 hushkits to United for 59 Boeing 727-200s, with an option for 16 more. The freighter conversion involves installation of a 3.5 x 2.6m cargo door and structural strengthening to raise maximum take-off gross weight from the current 186,000kg of the US domestic version of the DC-10 to 202,500kg.

Phase two of the programme begins in early 1998 with installation of the first Honeywell-based advanced common flightdeck (ACF) into a FedEx DC-10. The ACF will be installed in most, if not all, of the 35 DC-10s now in the FedEx fleet, in addition to the ex-United Airlines aircraft.

FedEx is believed to be negotiating with American Airlines and other DC-10 operators as part of long-term plans to build up a fleet of up to 120 MD-10s. FedEx says: "We are an opportunistic purchaser of aircraft and we are always looking. We don't have any other firm deals signed yet."

The ACF closely resembles the MD-11 flightdeck, with six 200 x 200mm displays and a Category IIIb automatic-landing capability. The MD-10 flightdeck will be more advanced than that of the MD-11 in having liquid-crystal flat-panel displays derived from technology developed for the Boeing 777.

The ACF incorporates Honeywell's versatile integrated avionics 2000 architecture, also derived from the 777 effort, and now being used as the core for all new MDC ACF systems.

The first ACF-configured aircraft is expected to be flown in the third quarter of 1998. Certification is expected by mid-1999.

The move is expected to stimulate prices for used DC-10, of which the worldwide fleet numbers around 300 aircraft.

Source: Flight International