UPS Airlines Celebrates Its 34th Birthday: A Brief Look at Its History

Photo Credit: Harrison Rowe/AviationSource

LONDON – Today, UPS Airlines celebrates its 34th birthday, transporting goods all around the world.

This piece will look at the brief history of the airline side of the logistics firm, and how it was able to expand to the position it is in today.

Such an expansion has seen them be able to operate into the following hubs:

  • Louisville (Worldport).
  • Hong Kong
  • Kuala Lumpur
  • Shanghai-Pudong
  • Shenzhen
  • Hamilton
  • Cologne/Bonn
  • East Midlands
  • Anchorage
  • Columbia, South Carolina
  • Chicago – Rockford
  • Dallas/Fort Worth
  • Ontario
  • Miami
  • Philadelphia

The ’80s – Where it all began…

At the start of the ’80s, the company opened up its first hub for sorting packages that would be transported by air.

This comes following the Airline Deregulation Act of 1978.

This is what we see today as Louisville, an ideal point in the U.S that would be accessible to the majority of the country in less than three hours.

Konstantin von Wedelstaedt (GFDL 1.2 or GFDL 1.2, via Wikimedia Commons

The company then contracted the likes of Evergreen International Airlines, Interstate Airlines, Ryan Air, and Orion Air who flew packages using commercial aircraft that were subsequently converted into freighters.

By 1982, UPS introduced next-day air services on certain packages.

In 1985, Anchorage was the next target on the list of expansion, which was used to access most of the industrialized world in less than 9.5 hours.

Teaming Up With Competitors To Access The East

By 1986, the company signed a joint venture with nowadays a fellow competitor, DHL, which was named International Parcel Express.

Felix Goetting (GFDL 1.2 or GFDL 1.2, via Wikimedia Commons

However, the Japanese rejected the name used in the country, which caused UPS to purchase the DHL share of the venture in 1987, which resulted in the naming of UPS Airlines.

This meant that contracts with Evergreen, Ryan, and Orion were canceled and in January 1988, commenced operations under the new name using ex-Orion Air flight crews.

The ’90s – The Decade of Expansion

With the founding of UPS Airlines, the company began to operate a route network that would serve 41 countries which would link up the United States and Canada to Asia and Europe.

UPS Airlines ordered 75 757 Freighters and 32 767 Freighters, becoming the launch customer of both types.

Dylan Ashe from San Jose, USA, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

This allowed the expansion of hubs to the likes of Rockford, Philadelphia, Dallas/Fort Worth, Columbia, South Carolina, and Ontario, California.

Also, in 1991, the airline partnered up with Star Air leasing 727 Freighters to the airline to fly domestic cargo flights within Europe, thus opening up another avenue for the carrier.

On top of this, eight 727 Freighters in the existing fleet were converted into Quiet Freighters (QFs), in order to update that fleet of jets.

The New Millenium, New Plans

At the start of the millennium, the airline announced a $1bn expansion, dubbed Worldport at its Louisville hub, which doubled the size of the facility.

Konstantin von Wedelstaedt (GFDL 1.2 or GFDL 1.2, via Wikimedia Commons

On top of this, a second expansion was made in 2006 to expand heavy-freight operations within the UPS caliber.

But they didn’t stop there. From 2006-2010, a third expansion was made adding over one million square feet to the facility and additional ramp space for aircraft.

This is because the airline ordered the following in the 2000s:

  • 60 Airbus A300 Freighters.
  • 24 McDonnell Douglas MD-11Fs (With options for additional 22).
  • 10 A380-800 Freighters (Which we all know never came to fruition in the end).
  • 8 747-400 Freighters.
  • 27 More 767 Freighters.
  • And more!

This replaced the likes of the 747-100s, 747-200s, its DC-8 fleet, and more.

More Recent Times: The ’10s

The airline made some more investments in the 2010s, with the first being on the modifications to the UPS 767 Freighters to include sleep modules in the aircraft amongst other things.

UPS also acquired three 767-300ERs from Japan Airlines in 2014, which became the first converted aircraft for the airline.

Jeroen Stroes Aviation Photography from Netherlands, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Then, in October 2016, UPS Airlines agreed to a $5.2 billion purchase agreement for 14 Boeing 747-8F Freighter aircraft, with the option to acquire an additional 14, which it exercised in 2018.

This made the airline the largest operator of that aircraft type and even added another four 767-300 Freighters to the order book, which will be delivered this year.

Also because of that order, it enabled UPS to introduce its longest-ever flight, which is nonstop between Louisville and Dubai International Airport.

Looking at the Pandemic & Ahead…

The last 34 years have accumulated significant success, not just for UPS Airlines, but the UPS Group as well.

Because of its continued expansion spanning three and a half decades, it now operates to 815 destinations across the world, boasting a fleet size of around 288 aircraft.

Peter Bakema (GFDL 1.2 or GFDL 1.2, via Wikimedia Commons

The COVID-19 pandemic has helped accelerate growth as air cargo was in constant and huge demand due to the distribution of PPE, Vaccines, and more.

This is going to position the airline in a very positive way, even when we come out of the pandemic due to new contracts it may have signed over the last couple of years, with COVID contractors potentially returning for more in a post-pandemic world.

What remains clear is that this decision by UPS back in 1988 has changed the way the country operates, and of course, makes it a carrier that synchronizes the world of commerce.

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