Airborne Express History

ABX Air’s initial parent company, Airborne Freight Corporation, has its roots in the period immediately following WWII, when an upturn in consumer spending created a demand for fresh California flowers in the Eastern market.

In 1946, the Airborne Flower and Freight Traffic Association was formed in San Francisco to meet the rapid transport requirements for its perishable cargo. In 1947, Airborne was incorporated as Airborne Flower Traffic, Inc., and went public in 1953.

Meanwhile, another company, Pacific Air Freight Inc., was capitalizing on the Pacific Northwest’s traditional role as the gateway to Alaska. Pacific Air Freight was originally started in 1949 in Seattle by Holt W. Webster, a former Army Air corps officer. By 1968 it had stations in 36 cities.

Merger talks with Airborne began and on October 17, 1968, the merger became final. The name, “Airborne Freight Corporation”, was retained and the corporate office was moved to Seattle. The new company took its place as one of the nation’s largest air freight forwarders.

With the deregulation of the airline industry in 1977, it was possible and necessary for Airborne Freight Corporation (AFC) to move strategically from being variable cost operator to a vertically integrated fixed cost operation within the U.S.

AFC was exclusively an air freight forwarder until l980 when it opted to enter the fledgling overnight air express industry by acquiring Midwest Air Charter, a small airline operating out of a Wilmington, Ohio, airport.

In 1980 AFC also purchased 447 acres at the Wilmington Air Park and began developing its airline hub.

It was the first air cargo company to purchase its own airport.

In January 1985, the freight corporation elected to use the trade name of Airborne Express, with all future public presentation of the company to carry this name. The purpose of the change was to more clearly communicate the corporation’s business.

In 1988, Airborne’s same-day nationwide delivery service, Sky Courier was launched. Large competitors would not offer a similar service for six more years.

In 1994 Airborne Express introduced ocean transportation to its international service package.

In 1995 Airborne Express became the first U.S.-based air express carrier to serve Vietnam after the U.S. trade embargo dissolved, with an online, real-time shipment-tracking network.

Airborne Express established an alliance with the U.S. Postal Service and introduced a deferred delivery service that enabled businesses to ship directly to consumers.

In 2001 and 2002 Airborne launched its zone-based, one-to-seven day delivery service. The new service made Airborne more competitive in an increasingly important business segment.


Additionally, Airborne entered the retail marketplace, offering shipping services through new partners such as OfficeMax and Neighborhood Postal Centers.

In 2003, Airborne won the Brand Keys Customer Loyalty Award for the sixth consecutive year.