Memphis-based FedEx Corp. has signed on to be the launch customer for a brand new cargo aircraft, the Cessna SkyCourier 408 turboprop produced by Wichita, Kansas-based Textron Aviation.

FedEx airline arm FedEx Express has placed a firm order for 50 SkyCourier 408s, plus 50 options. Textron, which will produce the aircraft in Wichita, plans to begin deliveries to FedEx in 2020. 

Textron Aviation president and CEO Scott Ernest said FedEx jointly designed the aircraft with Textron. “The aircraft will fulfill a gap in this market segment with its superior performance and low operating costs in combination with the cabin flexibility, payload capability and efficiency only a clean-sheet design can offer,” Ernest said.

“We worked closely with Textron Aviation to develop the Cessna SkyCourier 408, which includes several key features that will help us grow our business in small and medium-sized markets, especially in the airfreight segment,” FedEx Express president and CEO David Cunningham said.

Textron also plans to offer a 19-seat passenger variant of the SkyCourier 408.

The cargo variant FedEx will receive “will feature a large cargo door and a flat floor cabin that is sized to handle up to three LD3 shipping containers with an impressive 6,000 pounds of maximum payload capability,” Textron said. The aircraft will have a maximum range of 900 nautical miles.

FedEx said the aircraft “has almost twice the volumetric capacity of the single engine Cessna Caravan 208 currently in the FedEx Express feeder fleet,” adding, “Unlike FedEx’s current feeder aircraft, the aircraft has a large 87-inch by 69-inch cargo door, which will support container and pallet operations. The large cargo doors will help FedEx to provide even faster service to airfreight customers who ship to or from smaller markets in its network.”

The aircraft appear designed to enable FedEx to deliver expedited business-to-consumer cargo to markets beyond the reach of its more than 360 freighter jet aircraft. Like most of the 300 aircraft in FedEx’s feeder fleet, the SkyCourier 408s are likely to be placed with third-party carriers.

FedEx earlier this month became the launch customer for the ATR 72-600 freighter, placing a firm order for 30 aircraft, plus 20 options.

“These aircraft purchases are part of our long-term feeder fleet strategy,” FedEx Express EVP-air operations Greg Hall said. “That strategy will not only improve our fuel efficiency and fleet reliability, but thanks to a collaborative training program we are planning, will create a reliable pipeline of well-qualified pilot applicants for FedEx Express pilot jobs, leveraging the experience they will gain in our feeder system.”

Textron said the 19-seat passenger variant “will include crew and passenger doors for smooth boarding, as well as large cabin windows for great natural light and views.” It added that both the passenger and cargo variants “will offer single-point pressure refueling to enable faster turnarounds.”

Aaron Karp