Leisure carrier Sun Country Airlines plans to begin operating cargo flights on behalf of Amazon Air in the second quarter of 2020 using a fleet of 10 Boeing 737-800 converted freighters, the airline said Tuesday. The cargo aircraft will be subleased from Amazon and will be operated in the Amazon Air network.
“Our partnership with Amazon represents a unique opportunity to significantly grow our airline,” Sun Country CEO Jude Bricker said Dec. 17 in announcing what the company described as a long-term air transportation services agreement.
With the leased freighters, privately-held Sun Country’s fleet will grow to 39 aircraft, all of which are 737-700s and -800s. Sun Country said it will hire 70 pilots, a 20% increase, as well as additional maintenance and operations personnel to handle the new cargo operations.
The local Star-Tribune said the deal with Amazon is for six years. Sun Country has about 1,500 employees, of whom about 350 are pilots, the paper reported.
The Wall Street Journal first reported the Amazon contract with Sun Country, which is headquartered in Minneapolis-St. Paul area.
Sun Country flies scheduled passenger service on routes in the U.S., and to Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean, as well as offering vacation packages and charter services. It also flies passenger charters for the U.S. military. The airline offers cargo service utilizing the belly holds of its passenger aircraft.
Air Transport Services Group, Atlas Air and Atlas Air subsidiary Southern Air currently operate cargo services for Amazon.
“Sun Country has a proven track record flying 737-800 aircraft and a commitment to serving customers,” said Sarah Rhoads, vice president, Amazon Global Air, in a statement.
The news comes as Amazon continues to build up its own air and logistics network to support its mushrooming e-commerce business, with one and two-day delivery commitments for Prime members.
The e-commerce giant has shown little patience with service providers that don’t perform. Dissatisfaction with delivery delays from FedEx Express and UPS led the company to start its own airline with contract carriers, with about 50 planes in the fleet. In October, Amazon transferred flying responsibility for two leased Boeing 767-300 freighters from Atlas Air Worldwide to Air Transport International, a charter airline owned by Air Transport Services Group (ATSG). No reason was given for the change, but it appeared to be a way to hedge risk of any operational slowdown by Atlas Air pilots, who are engaged in tense talks over a new labor contract, ahead of the holiday season.
In June, Amazon announced an agreement with GE Capital Aviation Services (GECAS) to lease 15 737-800 freighters. Those 15 are in addition to five previously leased from GECAS.
Amazon Air intends to have 70 aircraft flying in its dedicated network by 2021.
Amazon also is growing its airport infrastructure. Earlier this year the company opened regional air hubs at Fort Worth Alliance Airport, Wilmington Air Park, Ohio, and Chicago Rockford International Airport and it plans to open a central air hub at Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport in 2021. DHL previously had operated a freight hub at the Wilmington Air Park, but closed it in early 2009. The company later donated the facility and 1,500 acres of land to the Clinton County (Ohio) Port Authority.