FedEx is raising its reliance on the Boeing MD-11 freighter, with a decision to almost double its planned fleet of MD-11Fs to 60 through deals for more new and secondhand aircraft.

The US parcels carrier, which now operates 20 MD-11Fs, last week disclosed that it has agreed to purchase 20 Pratt & Whitney PW4000-powered MD-11 passenger aircraft now in service with Swissair (16) and LTU (four) from the Swiss airline's parent SAir Group. Deliveries will take place between August 2002 and December 2006.

The four LTU MD-11s were acquired last year by Swissair and will be introduced by the airline this year to enable the phase-out of its Boeing 747-300s to be accelerated. Swissair will begin replacing its entire MD-11 fleet with recently ordered Airbus A340-600s from 2002. FedEx has not yet selected a conversion specialist to undertake the passenger to freighter modification of the aircraft.

Separately, FedEx has ordered three new P&W PW4000-powered MD-11s for delivery between March and June 1999. The new deal increases FedEx's orders for new-build MD-11Fs to 21. The carrier is also phasing in 19 MD-11s from American Airlines. All the previously ordered aircraft and the American aircraft are powered by General Electric CF6-80C2s, but the newly ordered MD-11s will have PW4000s, giving commonality with the Swissair aircraft.

The newly ordered MD-11s will substitute for three American MD-11s which were due to have been delivered during 1999, but will now been handed over between September 2002 and May 2003 as the US carrier needs to retain capacity until delivery of its replacements.

With Boeing rethinking its earlier plans to continue MD-11 production, FedEx could find itself having to rely on the acquisition of the remaining large fleets of passenger aircraft still in operation to boost its fleet.

MD-11 operators such as KLM and Alitalia are already known to be considering replacement orders for their fleets, and these aircraft may be next on the FedEx shopping list.

Source: Flight International