The Airbus A300 plane crashed around 5 a.m. CDT on approach to the airport, Federal Aviation Administration spokeswoman Kathleen Bergen said. The plane was en route from Louisville, Ky., Bergen said.
There was no information on injuries, but UPS spokesman Jeff Wafford said there were two crew members aboard the plane.
"As we work through this difficult situation, we ask for your patience, and that you keep those involved in your thoughts and prayers," Atlanta-based UPS said in a statement.
Herrera-Bast said the plane crashed in "open land" she described as a grassy field on the outskirts of Birmingham-Shuttlesworth International Airport. The crash hasn't affected airport operations, she said.
Bergen said the scene is about a half-mile north of Runway 18.
At 7 a.m. Wednesday, conditions in the area were rainy with low clouds. Smoke was still rising from the scene at 7:47 a.m. There was a piece of the plane's white fuselage near a blackened area on the ground.
"The plane is in several sections," said Birmingham Mayor William Bell, who was briefed on the situation by the city's fire chief. "There were two to three small explosions, but we think that was related to the aviation fuel."
The two crewmembers on board were the pilot and the co-pilot, Bell said.
Previously, a UPS cargo plane crashed on Sept. 3, 2010, in the United Arab Emirates, just outside Dubai. Both pilots were killed. Authorities there blamed the crash on its load of between 80,000 to 90,000 lithium batteries, which are sensitive to temperature. Investigators found that a fire on board likely began in the cargo containing the batteries.
Associated Press writers Becky Yonker in Louisville, Ky., and Jeff Martin in Atlanta contributed to this report.