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More Amazon cargo jets fill the skies for holiday season

Expanded air network increases reach, ability to move inventory

An Amazon Air 737-800 freighter takes off from the company's hub at Alliance Airport in Fort Worth, Texas.

Amazon Air, the private cargo airline of giant digital retailer and logistics provider Amazon, dramatically increased flight activity to help fulfill a huge increase in online orders on Cyber Monday, according to researchers at DePaul University.

Amazon (NASDAQ: AMZN) previously posted on its website that it achieved record-breaking sales between Black Friday and Cyber Monday in late November, although no specific figures were provided. Online sales among all retailers for Black Friday were up 7% from 2020 and were expected to set an all-time record for the so-called Cyber Week, according to Salesforce.

Amazon Air operated 209 flights on Cyber Monday and 206 flights the following day, Nov. 30, a 26% increase over a similar period in late August, with the air network especially busy in Europe, the Chaddick Institute for Metropolitan Development at DePaul said in its winter newsletter published Wednesday.

The flight tempo was 140% greater than when the DePaul research team first evaluated Amazon’s network in May 2020, underscoring how rapidly the company has expanded its fleet and airport locations in line with sales growth on its shopping platform.

Flights on Amazon’s intra-European routes increased markedly, from eight to 18.5 daily, due to the addition of a fourth and fifth Boeing 737 operated by ASL Airlines. The new aircraft are part of an order with Boeing to convert 20 737s to freighters.

The findings are based on data from and that track takeoffs and landings of aircraft registered to Amazon Air. 

The number of flights at Amazon’s newly transformed national hub at Cincinnati-Northern Kentucky International Airport grew to 30 per day, from about 28 before the expansion, not including flights operated by ABX Air and Air Transport International under their own brand names, the study said. ABX and ATI are subsidiaries of Air Transport Service Group (NASDAQ: ATSG), in which Amazon has an equity stake.

Amazon Air has expanded at an astounding rate since its launch five years ago and now boasts a fleet of 81 aircraft, up from 73 since late August, all of which are operated by for-hire cargo airlines. Amazon’s fleet, nearly all of which is leased from contract carriers, consists of medium widebody Boeing 767s as well as smaller, standard-size Boeing 737 converted freighters. The 767s can carry 39 shipping shipping containers, each able to hold hundreds of packages.

The 767-300 is the mainstay of the Amazon Air fleet, with 41 in service as of September, according to London-based aviation advisory and appraisal firm IBA. Amazon has committed to receive an additional 11 Boeing 767-300s once they have been converted to handle freight. 

The aircraft mix changed last month with the addition of new transport provider Silver Airways, which is flying three ATR72-500 turboprops daily from Amazon’s hub at Alliance Fort Worth Airport in Texas to Des Moines, Iowa, and Albuquerque, New Mexico, according to Amazon’s Instagram account. Silver Airways is a privately held regional airline based in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, that operates passenger service in the Southeast, Bahamas and the Caribbean with small propeller aircraft and seaplanes. Amazon said the ATR72s offer a more efficient and cost-effective option to service smaller regions and that it will add more of the aircraft and airport destinations in early 2022.

In a report three months ago, the Chaddick Institute outlined how new airport hubs and gateways, along with more flights, put Amazon in position to handle a surge in online orders for Christmas. 

In the past nine months it has added at least nine destinations to its route structure and serves at least 44 domestic airports that are within 100 miles of more than 70% of the U.S. population, up from 54% 18 months ago. The new infrastructure puts more than 53 million people within a short truck drive of an Amazon airport, decreasing delivery times, according to the analysis.  

Amazon has added a total of 23 aircraft to its fleet since February. CargoFacts reported in October that Amazon is interested in acquiring Boeing 777-300 and Airbus A330-300 aircraft to its fleet. Both widebody aircraft are a step up in size from the 767 and would allow Amazon to directly move products from China to the U.S. and Europe.

In addition to ABX Air, Air Transport International, Silver Airways and ASL Airlines, Atlas Air (NASDAQ: AAWW) and leisure carrier Sun Country (NASDAQ: SNCY) provide contract air transport.

The DePaul researchers estimated in September that Amazon would expand its daily flight activity an additional 12% to 14% for a total of about 180 flights per day by January. 

Amazon Worldwide Consumer CEO David Clark said late last month on CNBC that in-stock levels are close to where they were in 2019, but acknowledged there are shortages of specific items because of global supply chain constraints.

Click here for more American Shipper/FreightWaves stories by Eric Kulisch.


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Eric Kulisch

Eric is the Supply Chain and Air Cargo Editor at FreightWaves. An award-winning business journalist with extensive experience covering the logistics sector, Eric spent nearly two years as the Washington, D.C., correspondent for Automotive News, where he focused on regulatory and policy issues surrounding autonomous vehicles, mobility, fuel economy and safety. He has won two regional Gold Medals from the American Society of Business Publication Editors for government coverage and news analysis, and was voted best for feature writing and commentary in the Trade/Newsletter category by the D.C. Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. As associate editor at American Shipper Magazine for more than a decade, he wrote about trade, freight transportation and supply chains. Eric is based in Portland, Oregon. He can be reached for comments and tips at [email protected]