Exclusive: A Look At FedEx’s $2bn Sustainable Aviation Investment

FedEx announced earlier this year that it is investing $2 billion in three crucial areas – sustainable energy, carbon sequestration, and vehicle electrification. Amid these ambitions, Simple Flying spoke exclusively with FedEx Environmental Affairs & Chief Sustainability Officer Mitch Jackson about what to expect with the massive investment.

FedEx 777
Fleet renewals are just one of the numerous initiatives. Photo: FedEx

Adapting to social and environmental climates

The pandemic brought an unprecedented rush of airfreight demand across the globe. An increase in e-commerce demand combined with the urgency for crucial medical supplies and related equipment during the global health crisis.

This surge in cargo activity forced several aging aircraft to remain in activity, delaying several renewals. These factors ultimately caused FedEx to fall short of its 2008 goal to reduce aircraft emissions by 20% by the end of 2020. Regardless, this aspect has not deterred the company. It now has its sights on even grander prospects. The firm has a mission to be carbon-neutral by 2040.

FedEx’s departments, such as teams working in its Cold Chain Centers, rose to the challenge to help keep valuable items moving efficiently. Photo: FedEx

Fuel measures continue to be key

A major player in the sustainability mission is FedEx’s Fuel Sense initiatives, which are designed to reduce fuel consumption in the carrier’s aircraft and involve innovating operations to reduce environmental impact. The company highlights that it is taking action through research while developing and inspiring others to act more sustainably.

Overall, since 2012, Fuel Sense and fleet modernization programs have saved a combined 1.43 billion gallons of jet fuel and avoided over 13.5 million metric tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions.

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FedEx’s sustainability efforts include ongoing investment in sustainable aviation fuels, but it acknowledges that this is not enough. As a world-leading shipping powerhouse, it deals with numerous materials and vehicles. Vans, cars, offices, service centers, operating facilities all have to adapt with the outfit’s aircraft under the sustainability program. FedEx’s leadership shares that the company needs to invest in initiatives that are scalable and viable, but there is no one silver bullet.

FedEx Van
Despite missing targets, FedEx’s carbon dioxide emission intensity was reduced by nearly 40% on a revenue basis, while daily package volume rose by 110% between 2009 and 2020. Photo: FedEx

A complete approach

Subsequently, the $2 billion will be dished out holistically. Moreover, FedEx is working with experts to ensure that the momentum continues when it comes to sustainable insights in the next generation.

“We are committing more than $2 billion over the next several years to support initiatives designed to make FedEx operations more sustainable across our aviation and vehicle fleets and at our facilities on our path to our goal of having carbon neutral operation. For example, we will continue to invest in advancing our Fuel Sense initiatives across our aviation fleet, modernize our aircraft, and utilize alternative fuels to reduce emissions,” Jackson told Simple Flying.

“We need to invest in initiatives that are scalable and viable, but there is no one silver bullet. This is why our goal to achieve global carbon neutral operations includes a pledge of $100 million to Yale University to help establish the Yale Center for Natural Carbon Capture, accelerating research into methods of carbon sequestration at scale, with an initial focus on helping to offset greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to current airline emissions.”

FedEx Packages
The business will collaborate with its suppliers and customers to provide end-to-end sustainability throughout the whole chain of operations, with measures including sustainable packaging and carbon-neutral shipping. Photo: FedEx

High-tech solutions

Working with the Yale Center for Natural Carbon Capture on carbon sequestration could offer groundbreaking solutions in the emissions challenge. Carbon sequestration the process of capturing and storing CO2 from the atmosphere. All in all, these strides with technology would help in the journey to operate more sustainably.

Having to balance operations in the air and the ground, FedEx seeks to have its whole parcel pickup and delivery (PUD) fleet to be run on zero-emission electric vehicles by the end of the 2030s. The firm expresses that this feat would be accomplished in stages. For instance, by the middle of this decade, half of the FedEx Express PUD vehicles purchases worldwide will be electric-based. Then, by the time this decade is over, all of the purchases will be electric.

FedEx Cold Chain
FedEx is eager to have its 5,000 facilities worldwide operate more sustainably through renewable energy, management programs, and efficient equipment. Photo: FedEx

Fleet transitions

FedEx’s recent initiatives have caused the end of an era for aviation enthusiasts. The airline retired the last active commercial MD-10-10F in the world last month. The type is a veteran, but it simply could not keep up with modern alternatives on the market.

Thus, new aircraft purchases are focused around twinjets such as the Boeing 767 and 777. Notably, the 767 is around 30% more efficient than the MD-10s that were phased out.

FedEx 767
FedEx holds several different models of aircraft amid its diverse operations, but the motive is clear, it’s looking to make the fleet more efficient alongside sustainable aviation fuels. Photo: FedEx

These planes are combing well with fleet measures across the board, such as the testing of emissions-reduction technologies on specially equipped FedEx-owned Boeing 777F aircraft.

Even though all the MD-10-10Fs have gone, the airline still holds 13 MD-10-30s. Nonetheless, 13 767Fs and five Boeing 777Fs joined the airline while it retired eight MD-10-10s. Moreover, 13 777Fs and 35 767Fs will be delivered to its facilities between 2021 and 2024. So, FedEx is on course to retire its entire MD-10 fleet by fiscal year-end 2023.

FedEx won’t be flying the MD-10 trijet family at all in a few years. Photo: Getty Images

A significant presence

Altogether, FedEx is one of the most influential companies in the world. The company handles over three billion packages a year, with presence in over 215 countries. So, if it leads by example with its sustainability initiatives and continues in the right direction, others will follow. These factors will be vital in the overall sustainable aviation challenge ahead.

What are your thoughts about FedEx’s sustainability initiatives? Also, what do you make of the company’s progress so far to achieve its targets? Let us know what you think of the overall prospects in this field in the comment section.