And the World’s Busiest Airport (after dark) Is… Drumroll Please…

I don’t know if lightning will strike twice, but I figured I’d give it a shot.

The title for this post is a play on my most popular blog post of all time: And the World’s Largest Tire Manufacturer Is… Drumroll Please…

That post was written in June 2018, and for each of the years 2018, 2019, and 2020 it had the most total views of any of my posts, averaging nearly 80 views per day in 2019 and 2020. There was one day in 2020 when it had over 10,000 views (someone mentioned it on Reddit).

So let’s see what happens with today’s post.

If someone were to ask you what is the world’s busiest airport (after dark), how would you answer? (Hint, it’s not a LEGO airport).

Hartsfield–Jackson Atlanta International Airport? No…

Guangzhou Baiyun International Airport? No…

Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport? No…

Those airports are, respectively, the second busiest, the busiest, and the fourth busiest airports in terms of passengers flown, but that is not what the question is asking.

The key part of the question is “after dark”.

When you add that qualifier, the answer is the airport in Memphis, Tennessee.

Why Memphis?

That is where FedEx has its Global Hub.

After packages are unloaded from inbound flights, the packages pass through one of nine input areas, and then to the “Matrix,” where a front line of employees make sure the packages aren’t face down on a conveyor belt (since bar-code scanners here can read every side of a box except the underside).

After the Matrix, the packages head further into the facility on conveyor belts, passing first through a scanner that reads their bar codes. Based on the information on those labels, they’re then automatically pushed onto one of 19 diverters. After that, they go to a secondary sorting section and then finally to “Outbound,” where they’ll be loaded into new containers and onto the next planes.

Here are some facts about FedEx operation:

  • The Memphis hub covers about 880 acres
  • It has about 3.7 million square feet of facilities under roof.
  • It’s served by about 240 flights a day and can handle up to 475,000 shipments an hour.
  • 7,000 FedEx employees work at the site
  • on average, 1.5 million packages a night pass through the facility, 365 days a year. During the Christmas rush, that number can exceed two million.
  • in one building, crews process between 740,000 and 860,000 small packages — mostly documents — a night, with an accuracy rate of 99.97 percent.

The best way to fully grasp the operation is to see it in action. Here is a five-minute clip that ABC News did a few years ago on the FedEx Superhub. I think it is well done, and I have been showing it to my students every year since it came out. After watching the video, I suggest to my students that perhaps they will have a little more empathy for these delivery companies and their employees, and if their package is a day or two late, it’s still an amazing feat of coordination…

Sources:

Commercial Appel

Inbound Logistics

CNET

*image from 4ever.eu

 

73 thoughts on “And the World’s Busiest Airport (after dark) Is… Drumroll Please…

      1. and this year people are suggesting that if you want such delievries to arrive before Christmas, you may want to consider sending ordering those goods from Amazon earlier than usual…

        Like

  1. I’m one of the biggest defenders of the postal service, UPS, FEd-Ex, and all the other carriers of goods. I think it’s pretty remarkable how quickly we get most of the things we need at a reasonable cost. (Not too many things go for a reasonable cost these days.)

    As a guy who likes data, I am also curious why you had so many views on that one specific day. It had to be more than the Reddit mention. Any theories? If I get more than 100 views that’s a busy day for me. 10,000? Stunning, Jim!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I am also amazed at how mail and packages get to us so quickly, when you consider all that is involved.

      as to the number of views, I have no idea what that particular post would be so popular. So far. lightning has not struck twice with this post about FedEx…

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Impressive! It reminds me of the days I worked in marketing and we were creating a fulfilment centre. We had a consultant on the project who we called ‘Jumbo,’ on account of his often-asked question ‘what would you do if a jumbo jet landed on it?’

    Liked by 1 person

  3. How do you think of these topic ideas!? It’s so random yet fascinating. I would never ever guess Memphis as having this massive nighttime operation. The sheer amount of boxes in that video…. my gosh. 😳

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I believe it. I lived about 5 miles from FedEx second largest operation in Indianapolis. If I was awake at 3 or 4 a.m. I could usually hear planes landing and taking off. Cargo aircraft have less stringent noise restrictions and there is not as much noise generally at that time. Incidentally, Anchorage Alaska had for a time at the beginning of the pandemic the busiest airports on land and sea.

    Liked by 1 person

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