FedEx is talking to Saab Aircraft, Israel Aircraft Industries (IAI) and Ayres about developing a turboprop-powered, all-cargo aircraft to replace its fleet of 36 Fokker F27 freighters, says chairman Frederick Smith.

IAI and FedEx are known to be discussing the development of a new $10 million turboprop larger than the $4.3 million Ayres Loadmaster now under development for FedEx.

The new aircraft would be capable of carrying five standard-size cargo containers over distances of about 1,800km (970nm).

By comparison, the turboprop-powered Loadmaster is being designed to carry four half-sized containers.

FedEx has placed a firm order for 50 Loadmasters, and holds options for up to 200 more of the LHTEC CTS800 turboshaft-powered cargo aircraft.

Smith has asked Fred Ayres, head of the Albany, Georgia-based company whether it is feasible to develop a stretched LM200 Loadmaster. Saab, which is considering quitting the airframe production business, is an unlikely contender, unless it can find a substantial partner.

FedEx was believed to have been seeking a new turboprop to replace 160 Boeing 727s in its fleet (Flight International, 20-26 August), but in confirming the exploratory discussions with turboprop-aircraft manufacturers, Smith says that the new acquisition would replace the in-service F27s.

"To get the economics right, we are looking at a turboprop to replace the F27," he adds. "We would buy a lot more aircraft in that size if we had a very efficient aircraft. We are looking at every possible kind of aircraft, every possible configuration, but we are not close to a launch decision. These are only concepts."

Smith says that his Boeing 727 will be replaced by jet-powered aircraft. A decision to replace the hushkitted 727-200 freighters "is years away" and, he adds, the best replacement for the smaller 727-100 freighter "is probably a used 727-200".

Source: Flight International