WASHINGTON — FedEx and UPS, leading players in express package delivery and the biggest remaining users of McDonnell Douglas MD-11 freighters, have declared plans to retire their 20-year-old trijet fleets, nicknamed Mega-Dogs by some US flight deck crew members.

Currently, 94 MD-11s are operated by the two companies. UPS began retiring its first MD-11 in January, while FedEx, the original client for factory-built MD-11s, intends to phase out the trijet as part of a cost-saving and fleet modernization effort.

During FedEx's fiscal 2023 third quarter financial results meeting, President and COO Raj Subramaniam explained that fleet restructuring is a central aspect of this modernization drive. He added that the company's aircraft modernization program and use of Boeing 777s and 767s provide the flexibility to alter their plans.

Subramaniam noted that the decision also reflects a less bullish market outlook. FedEx will replace its 54 MD-11s with a combination of Boeing 767-300F and 777F aircraft, with 27 and eight of each on order, respectively. The Boeing 767 will soon become FedEx's largest fleet type, with 125 in operation and 27 more on order. The 53-strong Boeing 777 freighter fleet is expected to reach 61 aircraft by 2025.

UPS will retire the first six trijets from its initial 2001 batch this year, with 40 still in operation. As cargo volumes decline, FedEx is also reducing costs and replacing older planes with more fuel-efficient Boeing 767-300Fs. The company operates 80 Boeing 767s, with 27 more on order through 2025, although this led to a 3.3% drop in operating profit for Q4 2022.

Florida-based Western Global Airlines is the third-largest MD-11 operator with 15 aircraft, behind FedEx and UPS. Ten of these may be in storage at various locations. The COVID-19 pandemic caused a surge in cargo demand, leading Airbus and Boeing to introduce the A350F and Boeing 777-8F, respectively, to capitalize on the strong freight market. However, cargo demand has recently decreased.

IATA reported softened air cargo demand and ongoing economic challenges in November 2022, with global demand falling 13.7% compared to November 2021 and 14.2% for international operations. Capacity was also down 1.9% compared to November 2021. Despite a sluggish start in 2023, IATA's head, Director General Willie Walsh, expressed cautious optimism for the air cargo industry, citing China's faster-than-expected shift from its zero-COVID policy as a stabilizing factor for air cargo's largest source market.

Boeing anticipated strong demand for freighters in November 2022, projecting the need for around 2,800 freighters between 2021 and 2041, driven primarily by the Asia-Pacific region and the e-commerce sector.