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Hawaiian Airlines wins Amazon contract to fly Airbus freighters

Online retailer to lease 10 converted cargo jets for domestic US network

A Hawaiian Airlines A330 passenger jet. Amazon has hired the airline to fly 10 A330 cargo jets on its behalf. (Photo: Hawaiian Airlines)

(Updated 1:05 P.M. ET)

Amazon will lease 10 Airbus A330-300 converted freighters and outsource flying and maintenance to Hawaiian Airlines in a move aimed at replenishing its private air cargo fleet and giving the online retailer a potential ownership stake in Hawaiian, the companies announced Friday.

The aircraft will operate in the U.S. domestic market, Amazon spokesperson Olivia Connors told FreightWaves. They will replace older aircraft to be phased out as their leases with other providers expire and won’t result in any net fleet growth.

Amazon Air (NASDAQ: AMZN) has agreed to lease 10 used A330-300s aircraft, retrofitted for carrying cargo containers on the main deck, from Seattle-based Altavair. It also contracted with Hawaiian Airlines (NASDAQ: HA), which has had the A330 passenger plane in its fleet for a dozen years, to operate the freighters on its behalf. 

The 10 airframes will be converted from passenger aircraft to freighters by Elbe Flugzeugwerke GmbH, an Airbus joint venture with Singapore-based ST Engineering. EFW in the past year has ramped up capacity to produce A330 freighters in response to strong market demand.

“We’re thrilled to welcome Airbus to our Amazon Air fleet,” said Philippe Karam, director of Amazon Global Air Fleet & Sourcing, in a statement. “These A330-300s will not only be the first of their kind in our fleet, they’ll also be the newest, largest aircraft for Amazon Air, allowing us to deliver more customer packages with each flight.”


The airline helps Amazon compress delivery times for customers making online orders.

The first of the A330-300P2F aircraft is expected to join the Amazon Air fleet in late 2023, Airbus said. The remainder will enter service in 2024, according to Hawaiian Airlines.

Amazon reportedly has been in the market for large freighters like the A330-300 for more than a year to directly control intercontinental shipments from China that are currently moved by third-party ocean and air cargo carriers. The aircraft are well-suited for long, trans-oceanic flights, but Connors said Amazon will deploy them in the U.S. alongside its existing Boeing 767s.

Amazon Air has 110 767-300 medium-widebody and standard Boeing 737-800 aircraft, as well as a handful of ATR72-500 turboprops in its fleet, according to figures provided by Amazon. The aircraft are operated by five airlines, including two new vendors — Sun Country and Silver Airways — that are predominantly passenger carriers and never flew dedicated cargo aircraft until entering into agreements with Amazon.

Hawaiian Airlines is part of a trend in which passenger airlines have added freighter divisions to diversify their revenue streams after a spike in business from temporarily flying cargo-only flights with passenger jets during the pandemic to make up for lost travel capacity. 

“We are excited to help serve Amazon customers by providing additional air cargo capacity and logistics support,” said Peter Ingram, president and CEO at Hawaiian Airlines. “This relationship provides a catalyst to grow our business and the unique opportunity to diversify our revenue sources while capitalizing on our established strengths.”

The partnership with Hawaiian also diversifies Amazon’s pool of air transport contractors.

Amazon launched an in-house airline in 2016 to more quickly move products to fulfillment centers within the U.S. and Europe so inventory is available to meet one- and two-day delivery commitments for Prime members. 

Artists rendition of Amazon Air A330-300 freighter. (Image: Airbus)

The longer-fuselage A330-300 is better suited than the A330-200 suited for integrated air logistics companies and express carriers, due to its high volumetric payload capability with lower-density cargo. The A330-300 is a modest step up in size from the 767-300.

Hawaiian Airlines will maintain and fly Amazon’s A330s under Hawaiian’s U.S. air carrier certificate, delivering packages to Amazon’s hub at Cincinnati/North Kentucky International Airport and other airports in its network.

The air transport agreement with Hawaiian is for an initial term of eight years, with options to extend the agreement up to five years, the airline said in a regulatory filing. It also allows Amazon to expand the number of aircraft placed with Hawaiian depending on future business needs.

Amazon will pay a fixed monthly fee per aircraft, a per flight hour fee and a fee for each flight cycle operated. It will also reimburse Hawaiian for operating expenses, including fuel, certain maintenance and insurance premiums.

In preparation for service for Amazon, Hawaiian said it intends to establish a pilot base on the continental U.S., grow existing maintenance bases and expand the hiring of pilots, mechanics, dispatchers, supply chain employees and others to support the new cargo operation.

In connection with the transport service agreement, Hawaiian issued Amazon warrants to acquire up to 15% of its common shares. The warrants are exercisable over the next nine years and vest once Amazon spends at least $1.8 billion.

Amazon has exercised similar arrangements with Air Transport Services Group (NASDAQ: ATSG) and Atlas Air (NASDAQ: AAWW) allowing it to acquire their common shares. It now owns 19.5% of ATSG. In the past year, ATSG has placed orders for 29 A330 conversions with EFW.

Amazon’s transport agreement with Hawaiian was preceded this summer by the air cargo arm of ocean shipping giant Maersk hiring Amerijet to provide crew, maintenance and insurance for 767s that will operate its new trans-Pacific routes.

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

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2 Comments

  1. Lain Barclay

    Enjoyed the article, Eric. From another lens, this is a pretty big indictment on Boeing. Boeing had a rough few years. Now its fellow Seattle based, Fortune 100 sibling has looked elsewhere, to Airbus, for planes.

Comments are closed.

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]