UPS Worldport – a Truly Unique Cargo Hub

Airports · 5 min read · Oct 04, 2021
ups worldport

According to the official data, Muhammad Ali International Airport in Jefferson County, Kentucky, USA, served 151,641 aircraft operations last year. Only a million and a half passengers arrived or departed from here. Such figures, of course, suggest that it is an extremely busy airport in terms of cargo traffic – which, in fact, it is. All thanks to UPS Worldport Louisville ky- a genuinely amazing freight facility that makes Louisville International the second-busiest airport in the US with regard to cargo operations and fourth-busiest for such in the world.

According to official UPS data, the UPS world hub in Louisville ky, formerly known as Hub 2000, is currently located in an area of 5.2 million square feet – or 48 ha – and can handle 115 packages per second. That, in turn, is estimated to be roughly half a million packages per hour.

As the available publicity data suggests, with more than 20,000 employees, United Parcel Service (UPS) is one of the largest employers in both the city of Louisville and the state of Kentucky as a whole. In fact, it is extremely rare for a resident of the city not to have at least a few friends who would work for UPS or one of its partners at the airport.

A satellite view of Louisville International airport runways, facilities and surrounding areas.
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Such a great structure, which is built to operate with extreme precision, has to hide a few curious secrets, right? So let’s take a look at it, its history, some of the most exciting data, and the subtleties of its operation.

So what is a United Parcel Service?

United Parcel Service (UPS) is an American multinational courier corporation that is primarily known for its ground shipping services. UPS is the largest courier company globally by revenue, and one of the main reasons it was made possible was the company’s decision to enter the heavy freight business back in 2004.

Such a move was followed by a 1,000,000-square-foot expansion of the UPS Worldport, aimed to integrate heavy freight into the UPS system. The immense expansion project was finally completed in spring 2006.

Is it the same now?

In fact, a lot of things have changed since then. The beginning of this year was marked by UPS’s shift to household customers and other smaller clients in order to boost profits during the covid crisis. So the company sold UPS Freight to TFI, a Canadian transport, and logistics company.

Even so, the UPS central hub facility remains essential to support all of the company’s operations – being equally crucial for small parcel deliveries and the online shopping processes throughout the United States and other regions around the world. More than seventy aircraft docks and 250 kilometers of conveyor belts inside this megastructure are ready to handle both big and small packages from over 200 countries.

Why was Louisville chosen as the UPS Worldport location?

Historically, the city grew as a significant river port as the nearby Falls of Ohio accounted for the only one natural obstacle in the path of the boat traffic between the Gulf of Mexico and the Ohio River.

Being the leading portage site in the area, it has become a founding city of the Louisville and Nashville railroad, stretching around 9,700 km and thirteen US states.

This, in turn, consolidated here enough manpower that was able and qualified enough to perform complex cargo operations at the location when the era of air freight delivery began.

Taking a look from a broader perspective, UPS couldn’t find a better location in the whole of America for setting in their main hub than the surroundings of the city. The city has temperate weather, and three out of four Americans can be reached from here in less than two hours by plane.

a UPS McDonnell Douglas MD-11F aircraft captured as it flies in the morning past the state of Kentucky.
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How big is the fleet of UPS Airlines?

According to the data presented by the company, UPS Airlines’ fleet currently consists of 283 planes, including 52 Airbus A300-600RF’s, 36 Boeing 747’s in different variants, 75 Boeing 757-200 PF’s, 78 Boeing 767’s and 42 McDonnell Douglas MD-11F aircraft.

After gaining access to five more Boeing 747-8F planes in less than two years, the company will become the largest operator of such aircraft in the world.

Do all UPS packages go to Louisville?

Such a system does not seem very logical – especially while looking at the map of the company’s international operations – but, in fact, most of the UPS packages go through this facility at one or another point of their journey.

That’s because, as the cargo airline, UPS operates under the hub-and-spoke model. It is way more convenient and easier when it comes to moving more than a million packages through every of the main facilities per day.

There are also few other international hubs for its operations at the airports worldwide. The biggest one outside the US is located in Cologne Bonn Airport in Germany. The German site has a limited service area of over 30,000 square meters and serves 200 countries.

According to the company’s data, in this country alone, it handles 190,000 packages per hour. Less than half of such parcels travel to The Derby City at any point of the process – but don’t forget that the Cologne hub accounts for only a small part of all UPS cargo traffic.

What does the Worldport look like from the inside?

The facility uses two of three runways of Louisville International. One of them simply wouldn’t be enough to take in a steady flow of planes – most of which are landing here during the night hours. During the busiest departure hours an aircraft takes off here roughly every ten minutes – and during the peak season that density can become up to three times higher.

Most planes usually use one of the 70 self-parking docks connected through 5 huge wings of the cargo terminal. Everyone on board – the plane crew usually consists of two – must know precisely where to park after the plane is already on the ground – otherwise large delays due to complex transportation issues could be unavoidable.

Though at night some planes are serviced out without even leaving the tarmac, most of them usually go right up to the walls of the sprawling complex. After sidling up to the building, personnel, which has direct access to the docks, uses a so-called scissor lift for unloading.

A fleet of UPS cargo aircrafts parked and unloaded at UPS Worldport at San Bernardino International airport in Southern California on a clear day.
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And what’s next?

As the process of unloading of cargo containers begins, one of the worldport employees at one of more than three hundred unloading nodes starts placing packages on one of three conveyor belts: the first one is dedicated for the smallest parcels and the second one – for large packages. The third belt is for irregular cargo.

Due to the automation process, the sensors above the belt have to access every package which is going through. Such sensors are calibrated to scan the label containing all the data ubiquitous on the packages just seconds after they are unloaded. After a package and its destination are identified, the global operations center system directs it to the appropriate place, all the way through the sorting facility and to the loading docks in the end.

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