April 12, 2018

UPS' pilots union to survey large shippers to determine if capacity shortfalls hurt service

High-volume shippers to be polled on UPS' performance, how it stacks up against FedEx, and impact of Amazon.

By DC Velocity Staff

The union representing 2,800 pilots who fly for UPS Inc., which has been at odds with UPS over its moves to outsource flying to third-party carriers, has commissioned a survey of large-volume shippers to get their views on UPS' domestic and international performance; how it measures up against rival FedEx Express, the air and international unit of rival Memphis-based FedEx Corp.; and the impact of emerging transportation operators like Seattle-based Amazon.com Inc.

The survey, announced yesterday and to be conducted by the polling firm AmericanPublic, is designed to put empirical meat behind UPS pilots' claims the Atlanta-based company, inundated by surging e-commerce volumes and a lack of in-house aircraft to handle them, is failing to hit delivery targets on a daily basis. UPS has turned to what the Independent Pilots Association (IPA), the union representing UPS pilots, called "costly and less reliable aircraft subcontracting" to improve service. That effort has so far been unsuccessful, the union said.

A union spokesman, Brian Gaudet, said the union has heard from UPS pilots, particularly in Asia, that the failure to sync the flow of information between UPS and the sub-contracted aircraft has resulted in the planes leaving partially full, and UPS pilots and aircraft being forced to effectively rescue the volume that didn't move. "We believe this is having a cumulative effect on the UPS system, making it chronically late," Gaudet said in an e-mail.

According to IPA, the core issue of the survey is whether there is a strong connection between UPS delivery performance and the lack of aircraft capacity. "While UPS acknowledges the immediate need for more airplanes, they have so far been unable to make it happen, leaving the airline capacity-hobbled," said Robert Travis, IPA's president, in a statement.

Steve Gaut, a UPS spokesman, said in an e-mail that the company plans to boost air capacity by 30 percent between 2017 and 2022 by acquiring 35 new freighters and planes converted from a passenger configuration. While the freighters come online, UPS has decided to lease air capacity to accommodate customer demands rather than turn the business away and potentially lose it for good to a competitor, Gaut said.

Late last year, UPS entered into subcontracts for 2018 with two carriers, Western Global Airlines and 21 Air LLC, for five MD-11 planes from Western Global and two 767-200s from Air One, according to the union. Under the terms of the five-year contract between UPS and its pilots, UPS can sub-contract for up to 30 days per year to accommodate temporary volume spikes, such as a new IT product launch. Anything beyond that would be considered a "permanent increase in volume" that UPS must plan to transition to permanent IPA flying, according to the union.

Plans to subcontract beyond 45 days must be accompanied by a UPS proposal to show how the flying would eventually migrate to union members, the union said. Disagreements over the proposal have led the IPA to seek the services of an arbitrator to decide the dispute.

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