The Jet Age (1958 - Today)

"We started out with 8 planes and we covered something like 35 or 40 cities and we added each month."

-Fred Smith, founder of FedEx

Air Express

Rapid transport and delivery of packages has become an important aspect of the airline industry. Federal Express led the way.

After deregulation of the airline and trucking industries in the late 1970s, air express carriers specializing in rapid delivery of high-priority packages rose to prominence. In 1973, Federal Express became the first airline to operate exclusively as an express carrier. Air express airlines now operate their own aircraft and trucks to provide overnight package delivery.

Fed Ex Fred Smith
National Air and Space Museum Archives

In a paper for his Yale economics class, Fred Smith proposed the idea of an express, door-to-door package service using a centrally located airport hub as a nighttime sorting house. Although his paper was not well received, Smith pursued his vision. In 1973 he created Federal Express and used his hometown of Memphis, Tennessee, as its hub.


In the package delivery business since 1907, UPS experimented with air express in the early 1930s. In 1953 it began "Blue Label Air" second-day delivery through an integrated air and ground system. In 1982 it joined the ranks of air express airlines by introducing "Next Day Air." The airline's hub is in Louisville, Kentucky.


UPS routes hundreds of flights carrying thousands of packages every day through its hub in Louisville, Kentucky.