Air Transport World

UPS Airlines' expanding horizons.(CARGO)

LIKE MUCH ELSE ABOUT UNITED Parcel Service, which was launched more than 100 years ago as a Seattle messenger service relying on a team of fast-pedaling bicycle deliverymen, the scope of future operations could not have been envisioned when the company started its own air carrier in 1988. On Feb. 1 of that year, UPS Airlines launched service by operating two DC-8 freighters on flights from Louisville to Chicago and Milwaukee. Today the airline, which operates as a standalone unit headquartered in this Kentucky city, is the beating heart of Atlanta-based UPS's vast global delivery network. Its ability to carry large volumes at high speeds makes it possible for a company better known for its trucks and delivery vans to touch a wide range of economic sectors and reach to far corners of the earth.

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Surrounding the runways of Louisville International are eight large warehouses, all owned and run by UPS, that are home to a variety of goods and services including a Toshiba laptop computer repair station, emergency medical equipment storage and temperature-controlled rooms for perishable cargo. Companies large and small depend on UPS not just to move parcels and goods but to manage warehouses and set up and operate logistics networks.

The Louisville warehouses' disparate collection of products and business operations share one thing in common: They are all "end of runway," meaning that UPS's WorldPort sorting facility, capable of processing more than 350,000 packages per hr. and serving 100 aircraft nightly, is just hundreds of yards away. Between about 11 p.m. and 3 a.m. each night, a collection of 727Fs, DC-8Fs (including the two that operated those initial flights 20 years ago), 757-200Fs, A300Fs, 747Fs and MD-11Fs land at the airport, unload, are reloaded and take off, some still carrying packages going to Chicago and Milwaukee but many others ultimately bound for Cologne, Singapore, Taipei, Hong Kong and Shanghai.

"Dick Oehme [UPS Airlines' retired first president] has told me that he never could have imagined what it would become today," current President Bob Lekites tells ATW during a recent conversation in his office. Oehme spearheaded efforts in the early 1980s to add "next-day air service" to the portfolio to compete with FedEx, a newer company that had made speed a major selling point in its effort to win domestic US package shipping business. …

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