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Despite Better Economy, Carriers Say Holiday Volume Will Mirror '02

Reports that the economy continues to improve won't result in more holiday packages being shipped this year, based on estimates from the U.S. Postal Service, United Parcel Service and FedEx.

All three carriers expect package volume to be similar to 2002 as the Thanksgiving-to-Christmas selling season begins, despite forecasts that holiday shoppers will spend more this year. The National Retail Federation predicts holiday retail sales will grow as much as 5.7 percent over last year. List companies have noticed an uptick in orders this fall, while mailers report better response rates.

Mail tracking firm US Monitor, New City, NY, has noticed that holiday mail volume is up 5 percent to 10 percent so far, said Paul Ercolino, director of sales.

Meanwhile, the postal service said it is ready to deliver the same amount of mail — nearly 20 billion cards, letters and packages — in this period as it did last year.

The postal service will reduce the expensive Christmas network contracts it usually awards to cargo carriers and instead will send more of its volume via FedEx and UPS. Both are cheaper than cargo carriers, the USPS said. Plans are for the agency to use 10 planes from cargo carriers this year, down from 120 two years ago and 80 last year.

The USPS also is increasing its ground network, with mail riding longer distances on trucks this year. In general, the postal service uses its air network for Priority Mail, Express Mail and Military Mail. The ground network is mainly for Standard and parcel post.

Postal officials said they will not hire extra help this year, continuing efforts to reduce staff. The agency eliminated more than 25,000 jobs in the past year.

Though UPS does not give exact volume numbers, a spokeswoman said that Thanksgiving-to-Christmas volume is expected to be about the same as last year — in excess of 300 million packages.

UPS expects volume to crest Dec. 18 at 20 million air and ground packages globally, more than 50 percent higher than its average daily volume. On the air side, UPS predicts the peak day will be Dec. 23, with more than 4 million packages delivered worldwide, double the normal amount.

UPS said it will hire 50,000 driver helpers and package sorters to handle the extra volume and add 7,000 vehicles to its ground delivery fleet of 88,000 vehicles. UPS Airlines will add about a dozen large jets to its year-round operating fleet of 600 aircraft as more than 1,400 UPS flights take off daily, up from 1,100 during normal operations.

FedEx said it anticipates that FedEx Ground will handle as many as 3.2 million packages a day from Dec. 1 to Dec. 15. FedEx expects its busiest night for ground shipments to be in that period. Last year, FedEx Ground handled more than 3 million packages Dec. 2, its busiest night. Its average volume is 2.2 million packages daily.

FedEx Express anticipates handling more than 3.9 million packages Monday, Dec. 22, likely its peak night. Last year it handled more than 4 million packages Dec. 16, its busiest night. The average volume is 3 million packages.

Together, Dec. 15 is expected to be the busiest night for total deliveries for FedEx Express and FedEx Ground, with up to 7 million packages. Last year FedEx Express and FedEx Ground combined handled more than 7 million packages Dec. 16. Traditionally, the daily average is just over 5 million.

FedEx Ground expects to hire several thousand temporary workers nationwide. FedEx Express also will hire more staff, including former couriers and handlers. It also is a tradition for hundreds of employees to volunteer their time to work in the Memphis hub during the holidays.

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