Friday marked an important date in history for Nebraska. It was the day that air mail service in the state officially came to an end.
“It’s the end of an era,” said Geoffrey Gallup, owner of Omaha-based Suburban Air Freight. “It’s going to slip quietly into history.”
Suburban Air Freight has had a contract with the U.S. Postal Service since 1984 to carry all the express and priority mail for western Nebraska and most of northern Kansas.
Originally, the planes departed Omaha and made stops in Grand Island, North Platte and Alliance. Several years ago, the Alliance segment was shut down because of budget concerns on the part of the Postal Service. Pilots have only flown to North Platte since then.
Financial woes have now prompted the cancellation of the contract with Suburban and the end of air mail service altogether in Nebraska.
Brian Sperry, regional spokesman for the U.S. Postal Service, said the move is in an attempt to be more efficient and cut costs.
“This allows the USPS to save money without impacting mail service at all,” Sperry said. “We already have two trucks that go from Omaha to North Platte, and there’s room on the trucks for the mail. One of the trucks will leave Omaha earlier, so it will arrive in North Platte about the same time as the plane would arrive.”
Faced with a 33 percent decline in first-class mail volume since 2006, the agency is cutting expenses wherever it can. According to Sperry, the Postal Service lost $15.9 billion in fiscal year 2012 and $5 billion during the 2013 fiscal year.
“The USPS forecasts the losses will continue as more Americans use digital communications and pay their bills online,” Sperry said. “Business as usual is not an option.”
According to the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, U.S. Air Mail Service got its start in 1918. By 1919, a route was established between New York and Chicago. In May 1920, the service reached Omaha, and four months later, planes were traveling to San Francisco.
Air travel cut coast-to-coast delivery time by about a day. When regular overnight air mail service began in 1924, delivery time was reduced to 29 hours — almost three days faster than by rail.
The airport at North Platte was constructed in 1921 to serve the needs of the U.S. Air Mail Service. Built with private funds, it was initally called The North Platte Field.