Amazon is poised to take a stake in the parent of Hawaiian Airlines as part of a deal to expand the e-commerce giant’s cargo-hauling operations using a fleet of Airbus freighters.

Hawaiian Holdings issued warrants allowing Amazon to acquire as much as 15% of the carrier’s outstanding shares, according to a statement Friday. The warrants are exercisable over the next nine years.

The agreement may signal a revival of Amazon plans, reported in 2021, to use long-range Boeing and Airbus freighters to move goods using its own planes, stepping up its rivalry with UPS and FedEx. It also offers a new source of income to Hawaiian amid a slow rebound in Asia-Pacific travel, with some countries only recently lifting coronavirus-related travel restrictions.

“Amazon business will not only improve Hawaiian’s revenue diversification, but help alleviate the earnings volatility that is characteristic of Hawaiian’s passenger business,” Deutsche Bank analyst Michael Linenberg wrote in a research note on Friday. 

The plan was disclosed as Amazon’s cargo airline grows at the slowest pace since the start of the pandemic — a sign that the e-commerce giant is adjusting to slackening demand. Amazon Air was founded in 2016 to speed shipments of products from the company’s warehouses to shoppers. 

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Eager to expand the reach of its delivery network and reduce its dependence on third-party carriers, Amazon put together a fleet of leased and purchased aircraft acquired from other companies, typically at a discount to new models rolling off the assembly line. The service, which relies on pilots from a handful of partner carriers, has grown rapidly in recent years, tacking on new airport hubs while leasing and purchasing more aircraft. 

Hawaiian will operate an initial 10 Airbus A330-300 freighters starting in 2023, and the fleet could be expanded based on Amazon’s needs. The airline will establish a pilot base on the continental U.S., expand existing maintenance bases and increase hiring of pilots, mechanics and other workers to support the operation. Hawaiian now carries freight on passenger aircraft within Hawaii and between the state and North America, Asia and Oceania.

“Catalyst to grow”

“This relationship provides a catalyst to grow our business and the unique opportunity to diversify our revenue sources while capitalizing on our established strengths,” Hawaiian CEO Peter Ingram said in the statement. 

Amazon will lease the aircraft for Hawaiian to operate from Altavair, according to a statement from Airbus. The planes are being converted from passenger aircraft to freighters.

The planes will be “the newest, largest aircraft for Amazon Air, allowing us to deliver more customer packages with each flight,” Philippe Karam, director at Amazon Global Air Fleet & Sourcing, said in the statement.