Textron Aviation is betting that a boom in online commerce and package deliveries will provide a boost to the business aviation market’s nascent recovery — and has found a valuable partner to hedge that bet.

The company has launched development of a twin-engine, utility turboprop dubbed the SkyCourier 408, with service entry targeted for 2020. The announcement caps seven months of behind-the-scenes design coordination with FedEx, which becomes the launch customer for the clean-sheet aircraft with orders for 50 cargo versions and options for 50 more.

Scott Ernest, Textron Aviation’s president and CEO, says the unpressurized SkyCouriers, priced at $5.5 million each, will fill a gap in the market with superior performance and low operating costs. Working closely with FedEx offers “a great opportunity for us to get into the twin utility turboprop market in a very disciplined and focused fashion,” he says.

The cargo version will include a large door and flat cabin floor to accommodate up to 6,000 lb. of payload. The passenger variant is designed to hold up to 19 passengers and includes large cabin windows.

Aviation consultant Rolland Vincent says the SkyCourier is well timed to meet mushrooming U.S. demand for courier shipping and believes the aircraft will have a long production run. “Amazon is going to be the next one lining up to buy these,” he predicts, noting that the aircraft was designed from “the inside out” with shipping containers in mind.

The SkyCourier will be manufactured in Wichita. It will have a conventional aluminum structure and be powered by Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6A-65SC 1,100-shp engines, Garmin 1000 avionics and a 110-in. McCauley propeller. The aircraft will offer a maximum cruising speed of 200 kt., with a range up to 900 nm.

FedEx, which has used Cessna Caravans in its feeder fleet for more than 30 years, plans to take delivery of one SkyCourier per month as part of its turboprop modernization strategy. Overall aircraft length will be 55 ft. with a wingspan of 72 ft. and a cargo area of 68 in. tall by 78 in. wide, according to preliminary figures. First flight is scheduled for mid-2019 and initial deliveries in 2020.