What are the largest cargo airlines?

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In the world of aviation, air cargo is a critical market which helps to keep global supply chains functioning for time-dependent materials. Ever since the first air cargo flight took place in 1910, the industry has grown despite various challenges along the way.  

Here, AeroTime examines the top five largest air cargo carriers in terms of their fleet size in 2021.

FedEx Express





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With its heritage dating back to 1971, Federal Express Corporation (FedEx Express) has been in operation for half a century as an air cargo operator, delivering packages and freight to more than 220 countries and territories across the globe. Today, the US-based airline is the world’s largest cargo airline in terms of its fleet size.

FedEx Express has a total of 684 aircraft in its fleet (you can see the company’s data here). Currently, the company operates 235 Cessna 208Bs, 119 Boeing 757Fs, 102 Boeing 767Fs, 68 Airbus A300Fs, 57 McDonnell Douglas MD-11, 47 Boeing 777Fs, 21 ATR-72s, 20 ATR-42s, 13 McDonnell DC-10s, and two ATR-72 600 freighters. 

Looking to the future, FedEx is committed to purchasing 135 additional cargo aircraft by 2026. The plan includes 50 Cessna 208Bs, 46 Boeing 767Fs, 28 ATR-72 600s, and 11 Boeing 777 freighters’ acquisition, according to the firm’s annual report 2021

In 2017, FedEx signed up as the launch customer for an order of up to 100 yet-to-be-certified Cessna 408 SkyCourier freighters. The first batch of 50 SkyCouriers was scheduled to arrive in mid-2020. But due to the pandemic, the delivery date has been reportedly postponed to late 2022. 

AeroTime News has asked Textron Aviation for a comment regarding the Cessna 408 SkyCourier delivery date.

FedEx has 14 major cargo bases stretching from its primary hub at Memphis International Airport (MEM), in the United States all the way to Guangzhou Baiyun International Airport (CAN), China. 

United Parcel Service (UPS)





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United Parcels Service (UPS) was founded in 1907. But it was another 75 years before the American express delivery company established its air cargo subsidiary. Currently, UPS is the second world’s biggest air cargo carrier in terms of the number of its operating freighters.

UPS serves more than 220 countries using a combination of more than 500 UPS and chartered aircraft. At present, the UPS fleet includes the following aircraft types: Boeing 757-200F, Boeing 767-300F, Airbus A300-600F, McDonnell Douglas MD-11F, Boeing 747-400F, and Boeing 747-8 freighters (the company’s data can be read here).

However, Planespotter.net data indicates that UPS currently has a total of 284 freighters in its fleet. The largest part of its fleet consists of Boeing-manufactured freighters. According to Planespotters.net, UPS operates 78 Boeing 767, 75 Boeing 757s, 52 Airbus A300s, 42 McDonnell Douglas DC-11s, and 36 Boeing 747 freighters. 

AeroTime News has asked UPS to comment.

Meanwhile, UPS outlined plans to purchase up to 150 electric Vertical Takeoff and Landing (eVTOL) cargo aircraft on April 7, 2021. The express delivery giant, together with its UPS Flight Forward subsidiary, intends to buy the eVTOL cargo aircraft from Beta Technologies (BETA) to supplement its air services specifically for small and mid-size markets. The first batch of 10 eVTOL aircraft is scheduled to arrive in 2024.

DHL Express





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DHL Aviation, a subsidiary of courier giant DHL Express, commenced its air cargo operations in 1969.

Today, the German delivery giant has a total of 191 cargo and the average age of aircraft in its fleet is 22. The largest part of its fleet consists of Boeing-manufactured freighters. DHL operates 40 Boeing 767Fs, 36 Boeing 757Fs, 36 Airbus A300Fs, 24 Boeing 737Fs, 19 Boeing 777Fs, 14 Airbus A330Fs, 12 Boeing 747Fs, eight ATR 42/72s, one Airbus A321F, and one Tupolev Tu-204 freighter, according to Planespotters.net data. 

At the beginning of August, DHL announced that it had ordered 12 all-electric cargo aircraft from Seattle-based manufacturer, Eviation, saying in a statement that it was the first company to do so. The Alice eCargo aircraft has a capability to carry 1,200 kilograms and a range of up to 815 kilometers. eCargo aircraft will require around 30 minutes to charge per flight hour. 

“We firmly believe in a future with zero-emission logistics,” said John Pearson, CEO of DHL Express. “On our way to clean logistics operations, the electrification of every transport mode plays a crucial role and will significantly contribute to our overall sustainability goal of zero emissions.”

In addition to 12 electric aircraft, DHL placed an order for eight new Boeing 777 freighters as part of its intercontinental air network expansion plan to meet the globally growing demand for cargo. First deliveries of eight Boeing 777F aircraft are scheduled to commence in 2022.

“With the order of eight new wide-body freighter aircraft, we underline our conviction that e-commerce is an enduring megatrend. This is why we decided to act early and kick-off 2021 with this investment in our future,” said Pearson in a statement published January 12, 2021. 

Atlas Air





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The American cargo and passenger charter airline Atlas Air was founded in 1992. At present, the airline is the world’s fourth largest carrier in terms of its fleet size. 

Atlas Air only operates Boeing-manufactured aircraft. Currently, the airline has a total of 103 aircraft in its fleet with an average age of 20.3 years, according to Planespotters.net data. Of that 103, only ten aircraft are used for commercial and military passenger charters. The rest are solely for cargo, including 51 Boeing 747Fs, 26 Boeing 767Fs, nine Boeing 777Fs, and eight Boeing 737 freighters. 

It is worth noting that Atlas Air is the world’s largest operator of Boeing 747 freighter aircraft and the only outsource provider of Boeing’s 747-8Fs, currently having a total of 56 747s in its fleet. 

The largest 747 operator plans to add even more Queen of the Skies to its fleet. On January 12, 2021, Boeing announced that it has reached an agreement with Atlas Air for the last-ever Boeing 747 aircraft to be built. The last four 747s will be added to Atlas Air fleet in 2022. 

“The 747-8F is the best and most versatile wide-body freighter in the market, and we are excited to bolster our fleet with the acquisition of these four aircraft,” John Dietrich, Atlas Air President and CEO, said on January 12, 2021. 

Amazon Air





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Amazon Air, formerly known as Amazon Prime Air, was founded in 2015. The cargo airline was established to transport only Amazon’s packages.

Despite its relative youth, Amazon Air is one of the fastest growing cargo airlines, currently having 73 freighters in its fleet, according to Planespotters.net data. The airline’s fleet comprises 51 Boeing 767Fs and 22 Boeing 737 converted freighters. It is worth noting that some of their freighters are operated by other cargo carriers on behalf of Amazon Air.

Amazon Air has operations at more than 35 airports across the United States. In November 2020, Amazon launched air cargo operations in Europe, the company’s first expansion outside the US. 

Amazon’s first European hub is based out of the Leipzig/Halle Airport (LEJ) in Germany. The airport was chosen due to its central location and expertise in air freight operations. 

“Leipzig/Halle is already number two in the German air freight business and number five in Europe. We will invest heavily to expand our position. This will benefit the region, but also the whole of Germany as a business location”, Goetz Ahmelmann, chief executive of airport operator Mitteldeutsche Flughafen said on November 5, 2021.


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