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Tue, Feb 05, 2008

UPS Airlines Marks The Big 2-0

Started Ops With Two DC-8s In 1988

The anniversary passed quietly on Friday, as media attention was fixed on the Super Bowl. But in Louisville, KY, the 20th anniversary of UPS Airlines is a pretty big deal. Starting in 1988 with two DC-8s -- which remain in service -- UPS is now the ninth-largest airline in the world, with 268 aircraft and 3,000 pilots. And it's still growing.

Joe Reagan, president of Greater Louisville Inc., the metro chamber of commerce, tells the Louisville Courier-Journal, "UPS Airlines' headquarters is almost like a hidden jewel." He adds most people living in the area associate the international air hub so closely with the UPS brand, they don't know the airline is a separate division of the company, one which didn't exist before 1988. 

Reagan is grateful UPS chose Louisville for the operation. He tells the paper the headquarters provides "the kind of jobs that we compete for every day, that other communities compete for. Many, many communities would love to have that headquarters in their backyard, so we're very proud that they call us home."

Former UPS Airlines President Dick Oehme, who retired to Vero Beach, FL, recalled the seven-year effort to create the new carrier from scratch, starting in 1981. Oehme told the Courier-Journal he began his career with UPS as a package-car washer, and had climbed the ranks to become an assistant region manager when he landed on a committee to investigate adding next-day air service to compete with Federal Express.

A plan evolved to utilize the hub already established at Louisville by UPS for its second-day service, which used contract carriers including Evergreen Airlines, Orion Airways, Ryan International, Interstate Airlines and IPX Air. For a while, UPS hired other airlines to fly planes owned by UPS to provide next-day service. Oehme says that as volume grew, "It was becoming very difficult to coordinate four different airlines into one air operation."

What happened next was impressive. UPS announced its intention to form its own airline on August 24, 1987. Despite the immense task of organizing and staffing the operation from scratch, and the fact that Oehme's airline experience was zero at the time, UPS Airlines was granted its certificate by the FAA just five months later, on January 25, 1988. The company says that's a record time for certification of a new US airline.

The paper notes the team that oversaw the airline's launch included future CEO Mike Eskew, future chief operating officers and airline presidents Tom Weidemeyer and John Beystehner, and Jack Blaisdell, who managed the Hub 2000/Worldport project.

Bob Lekites, UPS vice president for airline and international operations, tells the paper the company remains happy with the city as the relationship enters its third decade. "As a transplanted Louisvillian, it's been great to watch UPS and my adopted hometown grow together. We plan on continuing our success in Louisville and in the air express business for many years to come."

FMI: www.ups.com

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