DALLAS — On April 17, 1973, the newborn cargo airline Federal Express operated its first flight out of its base at Memphis International Airport (MEM).
Federal Express founder, Fred Smith, who in the mid-1960s saw that consumer society was becoming increasingly hungry for mass-produced electronics, created the air transport company to swiftly deliver goods, avoiding logistical issues for producers and advancing the then-segmented US air cargo system in the process.
Smith’s idea was straightforward: have one carrier handle a shipment from local pickup to final delivery while operating its own aircraft, depots, posting stations, and delivery vans. The carrier would fly the freight from each of its pickup locations to a central clearinghouse, where the entire operation would be managed, to ensure accurate sorting and dispatching of every piece of freight.
When Federal Express started its first overnight operations at MEM, the cargo airline owned a fleet of 14 Dassault Falcon 20s. On their first night shift, the aircraft delivered 186 packages to 25 US cities, according to the airline.
Memphis International was a perfect choice; it was conveniently located and was rarely closed due to weather issues. Moreover, the airport agreed to expand and adapt to the new cargo operator as it expanded and had enough space for hangars and to become a cargo hub. MEM would become known as the Cargo Superhub.
Thanks to various investments, the airline expanded and lobbied to enable faster growth. In 1977, Congress deregulated air cargo, and the new airline bought seven Boeing 727s. This led to rapid growth, and the company renamed FedEx (FX), and added 90 cities to its network, flying to Canada a year later.
In the 1980s and 1990s, FX expanded its international network, serving new destinations in Europe and Asia. These new long-haul cargo routes were served using McDonnell Douglas DC-10 or MD-10 and Airbus A310 aircraft, some of which were still in operation until 2020.
In 2000, the company was renamed FedEx Express, in order to differentiate itself from the global FedEx corporation. Since then, and despite some economic difficulties, FX kept expanding its network, opening new hubs and sorting facilities in the US and abroad.
FedEx Express Today
FedEx is one of the largest cargo airlines in the world, operating over 420 cargo jets, with an additional 290 smaller aircraft for its contracted feeder fleet, according to aerotransport.org.
The airline’s fleet is composed of 50 MD-11s, 60 Airbus A300Fs, and 100 Boeing 757Fs. FX is replacing the oldest aircraft with its newer Boeing 767F and 777F aircraft, with orders for both types being delivered to the cargo airline.
Today, FX serves a wide variety of destinations, with its main European hub in Paris Charles-de-Gaulle Airport (CDG) and its Asian hub in Guangzhou (CAN).
FedEx Corporation Chief Executive Officer (CEO) and President Raj Subramaniam celebrated the anniversary, saying, “Today is a celebration of our dedicated team members who are committed to our Purple Promise of making every FedEx experience outstanding — now and for the next 50 years.”
The corporation’s Chief Commercial Officer (CCO), added, “We’re proud of our story of connecting the world – and we know our customers are proud of their stories, too.”
The CEO concluded, adding, “Today is a huge milestone in the history of our company and I am immensely proud to share it with our team members across the world as we deliver what’s next.”
As demand for air cargo surpasses pre-pandemic levels (as of February 2023—IATA), Airways salutes one of the world’s largest airlines in terms of fleet size and freight tons flown on its 50th anniversary.
Featured image: A Federal Express McDonnell Douglas MD-11 in 1995. Photo: Contri, originally posted to Flickr as FEDEX MD-11F(AF) (N612FE/48605/555), CC BY-SA 2.0