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Air CargoAmerican ShipperE-commerce & FulfillmentModern ShipperNewsTop Stories

FAA approves Textron SkyCourier; FedEx to receive 1st delivery soon

New cargo plane provides increased efficiency, payload capacity for feeder operations

The Federal Aviation Administration has certified the Cessna SkyCourier from Textron Aviation for commercial operation, clearing the way for FedEx Express’ cargo airline to get its hands on the first twin-engine, large-utility turboprop.

Textron (NYSE: TXT) last month rolled out the first production unit of the cargo plane at its manufacturing facility in Wichita, Kansas. Type certification from the FAA could have taken several months but was quickly granted.

Launch customer FedEx has ordered 50 SkyCouriers, with an option for 50 more. It provided input toward the aircraft’s design and features as a member of Textron’s customer advisory board.

The purpose-built design gives cargo operators “the ability to load, fly, unload and repeat with low operating costs and maximum cabin flexibility and efficiency. We expect the SkyCourier to be a workhorse of the fleet for FedEx and many other customers around the globe for decades to come,” said Ron Draper, president and CEO of Textron Aviation, in an announcement of the latest milestone.

The SkyCourier 408 is a key part of FedEx’s fleet modernization program. It has almost twice the volumetric capacity of the single engine Cessna Caravan 208 currently in the FedEx Express feeder fleet and is the first small feeder aircraft that can accept containers.

In December 2020, the express carrier took delivery of its first ATR72-600, which is also capable of carrying containers or palletized freight, and subleased it to ASL Airlines Ireland. FedEx has committed to buy 30 ATR72-600 turboprop freighters, with an option for 20 more. The second ATR72-600 was delivered to FedEx in May 2021 and is being operated by contractor Empire Airlines in the western U.S.

Three SkyCourier aircraft accumulated more than 2,100 hours throughout the flight test program, which formally started with an inaugural flight in May 2020.

Textron is also making a 19-seat passenger version of the SkyCourier.

The aircraft is powered by two wing-mounted Pratt & Whitney engines and four-blade propellers designed to enhance performance while hauling large loads. The plane has a 900 nautical-mile maximum range and features a large door and flat-floor cabin that can hold up to three LD3 shipping containers weighing a total of 6,000 pounds.

Click here for more FreightWaves/American Shipper stories by Eric Kulisch.

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Eric Kulisch

Eric is the Supply Chain and Air Cargo Editor at FreightWaves. An award-winning business journalist with extensive experience covering the logistics sector, Eric spent nearly two years as the Washington, D.C., correspondent for Automotive News, where he focused on regulatory and policy issues surrounding autonomous vehicles, mobility, fuel economy and safety. He has won two regional Gold Medals from the American Society of Business Publication Editors for government coverage and news analysis, and was voted best for feature writing and commentary in the Trade/Newsletter category by the D.C. Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. As associate editor at American Shipper Magazine for more than a decade, he wrote about trade, freight transportation and supply chains. Eric is based in Portland, Oregon. He can be reached for comments and tips at ekulisch@freightwaves.com