A cargo version of the Saab 340 is being pitched at FedEx Express and other US express package operators as a potential replacement for the ageing fleet of turboprop freighters.

FedEx has been evaluating the Saab 340 along with the ATR 42 and BAe ATP to fill the void created by cancellation of the Ayres Loadmaster. The now-defunct turboprop was being purpose-built for FedEx to replace the fleet of around 30 Fokker F27s which operate on its US network.

FedEx, which declines to comment on its evaluation effort, is being offered 340As by the manufacturer's Saab Aircraft Leasing arm, as well as some of the 71 American Eagle 340Bs which MCC Financial is remarketing. A prototype of the 4,000kg (8,800lb) payload 340 freighter was recently demonstrated to FedEx at its Memphis hub, during Saab's US sales tour.

The Saab 340 can be modified into a freighter using the existing aft-cargo door for around $250,000, but can only accommodate bulk cargo, rather than the containers Loadmaster was to carry. If FedEx decides it wants to retain the container capability that the Loadmaster offered, it would have to opt for the more costly full freighter conversion of the larger ATP or ATR 42, which can have large cargo doors installed for around $1 million.

Some 450 examples of the 33-seat 340 are currently in existence, many of which are managed by Saab Aircraft Leasing. The division is eyeing special cargo and corporate shuttle models as a way of keeping the fleet active and estimates that there is a market for one to two corporate aircraft and three to five freighters annually.

The recent demonstration tour, which also involved a 33-seat 340A shuttle, called at the hubs of other express cargo carriers and regional feeders.

Source: Flight International