How the air transportation of the Russian Post works

We deliver mail by air to 45 countries of the world, and in 2020 alone we transported 50 million kg of parcels and letters – an average of about 130 tons per day. To cope with such volumes, the Post cooperates with dozens of carriers around the world and thinks out routes so as to deliver items as inexpensively and quickly as possible.

In this article, we will tell you how the Mail’s air transportation works from the inside. You will find out which route an international departure takes before getting to the client’s hands, what travels on passenger flights with luggage, why we need virtual means of payment, and what amazing items are sometimes found by airport security personnel.

Why does the Post need aviation and which planes carry parcels

First, we need to understand how we will generally deliver a parcel along a specific route – by car, train, plane or several types of transport. To do this, we draw up a shipment plan for the year, quarter and month, where we indicate the approximate number of parcels and letters that will go to certain cities, and the optimal delivery routes. Mathematical modeling, which we talked about in article about the logistics of the Post.

How do we decide what to ship by air? We use aviation when there is no other way to quickly transport mail – for example, overseas or to cities that can only be reached by air. Or if the client chooses air delivery himself.

Aviation is the most expensive method of delivery: a lot of money is spent on the aircraft itself, fuel, and pilots get more than car drivers. Of course, you can send mail by ship, it will be much cheaper, but longer. For example, a parcel from Russia to the USA by water will take at least 40 days, to China – 30 days. It takes a very long time, therefore, as a rule, we do not deliver anything by water. There are only isolated cases when somewhere in the Kuriles, Chukotka or Yamal, mail is carried by boats.

For the delivery of mail, we use civil aviation, which is passenger, cargo and small. Let’s tell you more about each type.

Passenger aviation

Up to 50% of all cargo in the world is transported on passenger flights, and our parcels are no exception. In most cases, the Post delivers items in the cargo bays of regular passenger flights.

For airlines, the priority is precisely the transportation of passengers, and cargo is just an additional opportunity to earn money on the flight. Therefore, first of all, the carrier looks at how crowded the plane is, and only then decides how much mail can be loaded on board. By the way, parcels and letters fly in the same compartment as suitcases.

A narrow-body passenger aircraft, which has one aisle between the seats, can, on average, carry a couple of tons of mail. Wide-body with two aisles – up to 20 tons. The weight of the cargo that the aircraft can carry depends on the technical capabilities of each particular flight and the number of passengers on board. For example, if today the cabin load is 80%, the carrier can take a little more mail, and if tomorrow it is 100% – less. According to the standards of domestic airlines, 100 kg in winter and 95 kg in summer are laid per passenger with luggage. That is, if there are 10 fewer people on the flight, we will be able to load one ton more mail.

Cargo aviation

On average, one cargo flight can carry 20 tons of mail. Sending a plane half-empty is economically inexpedient, therefore it is much faster and more profitable to deliver one or two tons of parcels every day by regular passenger flights.

However, we use cargo aircraft where there is a lack of passenger capacity. This is mainly the north of Russia and the Far East – Norilsk, Yakutsk, Magadan, Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk, Khabarovsk. There are almost no trains going there, and because of the weather, roads can be blocked, so aviation remains the most reliable method of delivery.

According to the Federal Agency for Air Transport of Russia, only air traffic is available year-round in 28,000 settlements of the country. In summer, such places can be reached by boat, in winter – by dogs, but all year round – only by air. According to our statistics, 32 million people live in these remote regions, and 11,000 Russian Post offices (out of 42,000) are located on their territory. This is a huge number of clients for whom passenger flights are the main means of communication with the “big world”. And when they get too busy, cargo planes come to the rescue.

Take Norilsk and Yakutsk, for example. These destinations are in great demand, and the capacity of passenger flights is not enough. There is no free space in the luggage compartment, and it will take a long time to wait for the next plane. Or, due to bad weather, the pilot decides to take more fuel on board instead of cargo.

In order not to depend on the flights of third-party airlines, in 2016 we purchased two cargo TU-204. Several times a week they transport mail to busy destinations, where there are too few passenger flights, and the volume of departures is large. As a rule, such planes go in a circle: they start in Moscow, fly to Yakutsk, Anadyr, Khabarovsk. Then they leave for China, pick up mail from there and return to Russia, where they fly to Novosibirsk, Kazan, and, finally, back to Moscow. Having its own fleet allows the Post to quickly redirect aircraft to places where they are most in demand.

Own aircraft also helped during the COVID-19 pandemic. We delivered 311 tons of humanitarian cargo – masks, gloves and other medical materials – for dozens of medical institutions in Russia, Germany, Spain and the Czech Republic. The flow of goods was so huge that we had to remove the departures from the flights.

Small aircraft

Small aircraft are small passenger and cargo planes like corn planes that fly short distances and can carry small loads of up to one ton. As a rule, we use them on regional routes to deliver mail to those airports that cannot accept large aircraft – for example, on the Solovetsky Islands and Yamal.

How the Post’s air transportation works: the route of the parcel from the branch to the recipient

Preparatory work: how we plan to load the plane and why our parcels sometimes have to make room

A month before departure, our partner carriers receive information about how much and where to deliver mail. We are currently working with 49 Russian and 13 international airlines. During the coronavirus pandemic, we expanded our base of new contacts and added those with whom we had never collaborated before – for example, Ethiopian and Moroccan Airlines.

Closer to departure, we clarify the exact weight of the mail, and the airline adjusts the available load based on the number of passengers and the availability of priority cargo such as vaccines or 200 cargo.

On rare occasions, we choose alternative delivery methods such as trains and cars. For example, during the quarantine in 2020, when air traffic between Russia and the United States was actually stopped, we had to transport mail by car to European hubs. There she found herself on cargo flights between Europe and the United States, and from there she traveled by car to the places of international postal exchange in New York or Miami.

We use the same hybrid routes through other major hubs in Europe, Asia, the Middle East and even North Africa in order to deliver the growing number of shipments from online stores on time. The emergence of these challenging routes is made possible by our extensive partner network.

From the department to the plane: what interesting security inspectors find in our clients’ packages

First, the client hands over the parcel to the department. From there we take it to a small interdistrict sorting center, where all shipments from several departments fall. The package then goes to a larger distribution hub. From there, some of the departures will continue by car or train, and some will go to the airport.

At major airports, the Post has its own sorting centers. There, correspondence is sorted in different directions of delivery: something goes to Naryan-Mar, and something goes to New York. Before departure, the aviation security service checks the cargo on an introscope to understand if we are transporting something prohibited.

Sometimes in the shipment they find things that cannot be taken on board for reasons of aviation security – for example, paint cans or batteries, which can ignite. In such cases, we deliver the parcel by car or train, and if they do not go to their destination, we return it to the client.

Fun fact: Diggers regularly try to mail “echoes of war”, WWII grenades, to sell on eBay. Quite often, the work of the terminal gets up: the inspector sees that there is something similar to a grenade in the package, and, according to the instructions, calls the sappers every time.

After landing: how we work with the mails of other countries and why we need virtual means of payment for this

With domestic Russian parcels, everything is clear – they pass through one or several sorting centers and end up in the department, where the client picks them up or receives them with the help of a courier. But international parcels after landing, for example, in New York, fall under the responsibility of the United States Postal Service (USPS), that is, the US postal administration. She accepts them at the airport and delivers them to the recipient.

According to the rules of the Universal Postal Union, we cannot deliver parcels to those airports where there is no international postal exchange point (MMPO). For example, if a shipment travels to a small city in the United States, at the airport of which there is no MMPO, first it gets to where the MMPO is, and there the representative of the Russian air carrier transfers the documents for the cargo to the USPS employee.

By the way, we pay with the postal operators of the countries participating in the Universal Postal Union with the virtual means of payment SDR (special drawing rights). This is a universal, not tied to a specific country currency, which is used by post offices and banks around the world in order not to suffer with exchange rates. It is also convenient when working with countries that do not pay in dollars or euros for economic or political reasons.

It works like this: we transfer money for delivery to postal operators in other countries, counting them at the SDR rate. It takes into account the dynamics of changes in the rates of the five leading world currencies: the US dollar, the euro, the Chinese yuan, the Japanese yen and the pound sterling.

How we shorten air delivery times

Our Service Level Agreement (SLA) prescribes delivery times and adherence is measured as a percentage. Let’s say there is a rule that a parcel must take N days from the USA to Russia. If we fit into this period, the indicator will be 100%. The more we miss the deadline, the lower it will be. This chart shows that over the past six years, we are increasingly meeting the norm:

How did we achieve this?

  1. We expanded our transport fleet.

  2. We entered into contracts with new carrier airlines. The more partners, the more additional delivery options. Even if one flight runs out of free space for cargo, we can always find another.

  3. Optimized logistics routes. For example, there are parcels that fly from one region to another via Moscow. Previously, when they got to Vnukovo, we first took them for processing to a sorting center in Moscow, and then returned them to the airport for further shipment. Now, in order not to carry them back and forth, we can sort them in a few hours directly at airports (but not yet at all), and immediately send them to the regions.

Future plans

In conclusion, a few words about how we plan to develop our air transportation. Now we are working on a transport management system TMS (Transport Management System), which can automatically calculate the most profitable delivery methods by road, air and rail, taking into account schedules, deadlines, costs, traffic conditions and airports.

To do this, we upload to TMS the information that we received during the calculation of the total load, and TMS, using an advanced scheduling engine, compares it with the available tariffs, agreed limits and other conditions of carriage by own and hired transport. In the event of an unforeseen situation – for example, if a car breaks down, flights are delayed or borders are closed – TMS will help you find an alternative delivery method.

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