This is the world’s biggest airline, but you’re not allowed to fly it
Spotting a cargo aircraft often prompts a double-take: hang on, that plane has no windows.
We’re so used to seeing passenger jets milling about the tarmac at airports that when a sleek, cylindrical postal airliner rolls past, it comes as a bit of a shock.
But those windowless planes are the key to a multi-billion pound industry. An industry at which FedEx Express sits at the forefront, shifting some 15.7billion tonne-kilometres of freight a year, more than double some of its rivals.
Behind such a massive global operation are more fantastic numbers. FedEx’s airline cargo division boasts a huge fleet of 691 aircraft, twice as many as Ryanair, Europe’s largest airline, and nearly three times as many as British Airways.
With a ‘superhub’ at Memphis International, the company flies to more than 375 destinations (Turkish Airlines, which flies to more countries than any other passenger airline, only serves 302), transporting around 5.5million packages every day. That’s as if the entire population of Finland sent a parcel inside 24 hours.
The cargo behemoth, founded in 1971, uses a number of international hubs in addition to Memphis, with European bases at Paris Charles de Gaulle, Malpensa, Milan, and Cologne Bonn. In the UK, FedEx Express is based at Stansted, from where it flies to Memphis six times a week, reaching, it claims, 99 per cent of all US destinations overnight.
So what are its aircraft like?
Just like passenger planes – only there are no seats. Often, the only people on the aircraft are the pilots, and maybe a flight engineer.
FedEx has begun phasing out some of its older aircraft, replacing its Boeing 727s with the more fuel efficient 757s, and swapping out its MD-11s for 777s on its long-range routes, allowing the MD-11s to take over from the DC-10.