FedEx & UPS are starting to retire their substantial MD-11 fleets, thereby calling curtains to the iconic trijet in the world’s skies.

Los Angeles, California, United States - February 5, 2023: FedEx Express 1995 McDonnell Douglas MD-11 aircraft with registration N616FE shown approaching LAX, Los Angeles International Airport.
Photo: Angel DiBilio via Shutterstock

The two primary US air cargo companies – Federal Express (FedEx) and United Parcel Services (UPS) – are planning to phase out the McDonnell Douglas MD-11. The MD-11 trijet has been flying for 33 years since January 10, 1990 as a progression of the Douglas DC-10 trijet, and now curtains are being called.

Current status of the MD-11

On March 25th, according to, there are only three active operators of the MD-11, as per the below table.















Western Global Airlines





These operators are all air cargo operators, and all use the MD-11F variant – some of which were acquired from former operators such as but not limited to American Airlines, China Airlines, Delta Air Lines, Lufthansa Cargo, and Swissair. Although the MD-11 had five variants, including a passenger variant and a combi variant, confirms it’s only the MD-11F freighter variant still in the skies today.

Why are FedEx and UPS planning to retire the MD-11?

Soon, even the MD-11Fs will fade away from the skies. As FedEx President and Chief Operating Officer Raj Subramaniam explained to Airways Magazine, the air cargo airline is modernizing, and the Boeing 777 and Boeing 767 bring the ability for flexibility. However, part of that plan includes a move “to phase out our fleet of MD-11s” that served as the airline’s “flex fleet” with more efficient aircraft.

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As Subramaniam was quoted in the March 20th, Aviation Week from a statement he made at the company’s fiscal 2023 third quarter financial results call,

“Our fleet modernization strategy that we’ve been underway has allowed us to build a more agile and flexible fleet. And so, we come to a fork in the road here, are we going to see a high-demand environment or a low-demand environment? And the MD-11 was that flex fleet. And as we now look at the demand environment, we don’t see that high demand coming through.”

Hence a desire to retire the larger, more fuel-consuming, and aging MD-11Fs in the FedEx fleet.

UPS is also making the same decision. According to a UPS statement about its fourth quarter 2022 earnings, six MD-11s were retired. As such, there was a “non-cash charge” from the reduced value of the MD-11 fleet left.

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MD-11F | UPS | N270UP | VHHH - MD-11F lifting off into clouds

The price reporting agency focused on the global freight market. FreightWaves received and published a statement from Jim Joseph, president of UPS Airlines, explaining;

“Our MD-11s have served us well since we took delivery of the first aircraft in 2001. They were a mainstay on international routes, and more recently have operated primarily in the U.S. We will begin replacing them with new, more efficient 767s, with deliveries set to begin later this year.”

About the MD-11F

The MD-11F is the last MD-11 variant flying today and was both the last and longest in-production version of the trijet. The MD-11Fs came off of the factory line with a forward port-side cargo door (140 by 102 inches (3.6 m × 2.6 m), enabling access to a main-deck volume of 15,530 cubic feet (440 cubic meters).

WARSAW, POLAND - 27 JUNE 2017: Loading cargo on the air freight logistics operated by United Parcel Service (UPS), McDonnell Douglas MD-11F (registration N291UP) at Warsaw Chopin Airport (EPWA/WAW)

Photo: W.Kulczycki via Shutterstock

The MD-11F has a maximum payload of 200,151 pounds (90,787 kg) and can transport 26 pallets of the 88 by 125 inches (2.2 m × 3.2 m) or 96 by 125 inches (2.4 m × 3.2 m)) size. You can see a photo of the MD-11F cargo hold below:

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McDonnell Douglas MD-11 F N290UP ex Swissair, ex Varig, now United Parcel Service cargo hold

The MD-11 may have come about just as aircraft with only two jet engines were not just strong but trustworthy and efficient enough to haul freight and passengers, but an aging aircraft that did not need to fly as often as a passenger aircraft was incredibly financially efficient when acquired. Even though the MD-11 was not the best passenger aircraft; the MD-11 is able to live on as a good air freighter.

N587FE FedEx McDonnell Douglas MD-11F (1)

Photo: Vincenzo Pace | Simple Flying

Do you think the MD-11F should be retired? Please share your thoughts why with civility in the comment section.

Sources: Airways Magazine,, FreightWaves


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