8/07/1989: Flying Tiger Line Merged into FedEx

Then the world's largest cargo carrier, the acquisition of Flying Tigers by FedEx helped it expand its global network.



August 7, 2023

DALLAS - Today in Aviation, Memphis-based FedEx Express (FX) merged rival Flying Tiger Line (FT) into its operations in 1989.

Tiger International, the parent company of FT, then the world’s largest cargo airline, was purchased by FedEx in December 1988 for US$880 million. This formed part of FX’s overseas expansion plans.

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The introduction of the Canadair CL-44 in 1961 allowed FT to become one of the first carriers in the world to offer pallet shipping by air. Photo: Bill LarkinsCC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

Flying Tigers Founders

A group of Second World War pilots founded Flying Tigers from the famous ‘Flying Tigers’ fighter squadron, including American aviator and entrepreneur Robert “Bob” William Prescott. After sourcing 14 ex-US Navy Budd RB-1 Conestoga cargo aircraft, the carrier commenced operations in 1945 from Los Angeles International Airport (LAX). In 1949 the Civil Aeronautics Board (CAB) granted FT the first commercial cargo route in the United States, between LAX and San Francisco (SFO) to Boston (BOS).

It introduced the Boeing 747 freighter in 1974 and gradually expanded its network. By the 1980s, it was serving 58 countries across six continents, operating a mix of cargo, military contract and ad-hoc charter services.

Metro International Boeing 747-200 (N748FT). Photo: Rolf Wallner (GFDL 1.2 or GFDL 1.2), via Wikimedia Commons.

Financial Woes

But by the late 1980s, FT was struggling. Poorly timed moves to diversify the business and competition from low-cost carriers meant the airline lost US$630 million between 1981 and 1986 and was almost declared bankrupt.

One such diversification was the launch of a new charter and scheduled passenger airline known as Metro International Airlines in January 1981. Its primary scheduled route was from New York (JFK) to Brussels (BRU) and Tel Aviv (TLV) using Boeing 747s. It ceased operations in 1983 after being sold to Tower Air (FF).

The merger saw FX inherit FT’s 39-strong fleet and 6,500 employees. It also gave FedEx access to three major markets - London, South America, and Japan, in which it had been trying for several years to expand.


Featured Image: The 747 Freighter joined the fleet in 1974. Photo: Eduard Marmet, CC BY-SA 3.0 GFDL 1.2, via Wikimedia Commons.