“I heard it was a Suburban in the sky and the workhorse of our feeder fleet.”
This is what Bill West had heard about the CESSNA CARAVAN turboprop from colleagues while working at FedEx. Now, the vice president of Supplemental Air Operations, West is responsible for the more than 300 feeder aircraft in FedEx Express’ air network. The Caravan aircraft makes up a large portion of that network to this day.
“I like its simplicity, reliability and low cost of operation,” West said, and his vision is like the designers who first crafted the single-engine utility turboprop.
Conceived as a rugged utility aircraft with low operating costs, Caravan aircraft designers were focused on use in remote areas with extreme weather changes, mountainous terrain and rough landing conditions. As the aircraft’s versatility became renown in all corners of the world, the turboprop began to see wide use in global markets by a variety of customers, including government agencies, law enforcement and militaries, air ambulance operators, freight haulers, corporations and humanitarian organizations.
The Cessna Caravan turboprop has evolved into four current models, beginning with the Grand Caravan which bore the serial number 230. The Grand Caravan EX aircraft features a Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6A-140 engine rated at 867 horsepower to give the upgraded model a 38 percent improvement over the rate of climb of the previous Grand Caravan model, a 340-foot reduction in takeoff roll and a 13 knot reduction in cruise speed improvement on average. The Caravan Amphibian and Grand Caravan Amphibian EX turboprops bring even more versatility to the rugged workhorse allowing for takeoffs and landings on water.
It all started with FedEx, which was integral in the design process. The cargo pod was largely designed as as result of discussions with the delivery service company and it has rendered great success.
“Our Caravan fleet is used to provide our legendary 10:30 a.m. service commitment to the smaller cities and towns where we fly our feeders,” West said. That Caravan fleet accounts for nearly 80 percent of FedEx feeder aircraft company wide. West added that those aircraft build on the FedEx commitment to provide its world-class “Purple Promise” service to customers.
FedEx is among many who use the trusted turboprop. For years, Cessna Aircraft Company focused its attention solely on the Caravan in the turboprop realm, because the popularity following the FedEx purchase of more than 175 of the aircraft didn’t falter. Known as an expansive and rugged tool for owners, operators and businesses, many call the Caravan turboprop an aircraft linked to profitability in 100 countries worldwide.
Now, 35 years since the first delivery of the Caravan turboprop on Feb. 25, 1985, to an air service provider in Alaska, Textron Aviation celebrates the customers and employees who made the Cessna Caravan aircraft such a successful and versatile piece of equipment. One of those customers being FedEx, which took its first delivery on Feb. 26, 1985.
West missed that date by only a few years, but says he’s heard about it at FedEx.
“I was not part of that first purchase, but one of our current feeder operations managers was involved. The tail number was 800FE. He remembers the delivery was smooth and everyone involved in the program from FedEx was impressed by the aircraft from the first day of operations,” West said.
The relationship between the companies has only grown.
“FedEx and Textron Aviation have had a long, mutually beneficial relationship, starting with our operation of the Cessna 402 as the pathfinder feeder aircraft on Nov 21, 1983. The first feeder route connected San Antonio to San Angelo and Abilene, TX.” West said.
Now, that relationship has led to FedEx committing to purchasing a series of new Textron Aviation aircraft after finding additional utility and opportunity in the CESSNA SKYCOURIER turboprop, or C-408.
“The C-408, with its large cargo door, will allow FedEx to open up feeder markets to overnight priority freight products that do not fit the smaller cargo door on the Caravan model. At approximately twice the payload of the Caravan turboprop, it also provides more capacity into markets where we currently fly multiple Caravans,” West said.
Cessna Caravan program milestones
1981 Cessna Aircraft Company launched the Caravan program
1982 First flight of Caravan 208 prototype
1984 Caravan 208 received FAA type certification
1985 Cessna began deliveries of the Caravan 208
1985 Caravan 208 approved for amphibious floats
1986 Caravan 208B Super Cargomaster, stretched by four feet in a freight specific configuration, received FAA type certification
1990 First production Grand Caravan 208B delivered
1998 Delivery of 1,000th production Caravan 208
1998 Cessna began deliveries of the new standard Caravan 208, a Caravan 208 that features a Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6A-114A engine rated at 675 horsepower
2002 Delivery of 1,000th Grand Caravan 208B
2003 Oasis executive interior option offered
2005 Delivery of 1,500th production Cessna 208
2008 Garmin G1000 becomes standard avionics equipment
2008 TKS ice protection offered as optional
2012 Cessna and China Aviation Industry General Aircraft Company Ltd. (CAIGA) announce joint venture to conduct final assembly of Caravans in China for the Chinese market
2013 Cessna began deliveries of Grand Caravan EX, featuring a Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6A-140 engine rated at 867 horsepower
2013 Grand Caravan EX Amphibian received FAA type certification, deliveries commence
2015 Delivery of 2,500th production Cessna 208