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TBT (Throwback Thursday) in Aviation History: Airborne Express

Founded in 1946, Airborne Express was a cargo airline established as the Airborne Flower Traffic Association of California with the intention of transporting flowers between the US Mainland and Hawaii.  Eventually the company would grow to be the third largest private delivery company in the US.

For quite a while, the company struggled to achieve significant success, however, in 1968, a merger with Pacific Air Freight of Seattle, subsequently moving their headquarters to Seattle. Then, in 1980, the airline officially changed its name to Airborne Express, a much simpler name than the former. From there, the airline purchased Midwest Air Charter. Airborne Express then made history by becoming the first airline to own and operate an airport with the purchase of Clinton County Air Force Base in Wilmington.

The benefits of the changes became quickly apparent. Between 1988 and 1994, Airborne Express began countless new practices to improve their services. The company started offering same day delivery upon purchase of Sky Courier, began Flight-Ready SM, a prepaid package express system, introduced the Airborne Logistics System, or ALS, which provided distribution services, opened the Ocean Services Division, and established relations with Vietnam. In 1995, the company opened a second runway at Wilmington and added Boeing 767s to their fleet.

Over the next few years, the company made numerous strategic alliances with other companies, including USPS. However, on August 14, 2003, company shareholders approved the acquisition of Airborne to DHL. The sudden acquisition took effect the next day. DHL retained all of the defunct carriers’ advantages.

Though the successful cargo express airline came to an end, it was highly awarded and recognized, receiving awards from three major companies, including Volvo, in the early ’90s, being entered on the Fortune 500 list in 1998, and receiving an award from the Business Consumer Guide also in 1998.


  • Ashley is currently a senior in high school and plans on pursuing a career in aviation or journalism. Her favorite airplanes include the Boeing 777, 737MAX, and Airbus A350. She enjoys taking flights on various airlines to different airports and planespotting at her local airports.

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