The air-cargo jet is part of a fleet of leased aircraft Amazon is using to deliver its goods across the country.
In Friday’s Seafair aerial display over Lake Washington, online retail giant Amazon will fly its latest Boeing 767 widebody jet freighter, publicly revealing the new “Prime Air” branded livery of its fast-growing fleet of used cargo planes.
The company unveiled the plane Thursday at a media briefing closely coordinated with Boeing.
According to two sources with knowledge of the discussions, Amazon is talking to Boeing about the possibility of later buying new 767s for its air-cargo fleet.
Dave Clark, Amazon.com’s senior vice president of worldwide operations, insisted in an interview that “at this moment, that’s not something we’re pursuing,” though he added: “I’d never say never, … Who knows what the future holds?”
Amazon already is operating a fleet of 10 Boeing 767 freighters, flying daily out of its air hub in Wilmington, Ohio. Within two years, it expects to have 40 similar used cargo jets connecting its package fulfillment centers across the U.S.
Though the 767 flying at Seafair is the 11th to join the Amazon fleet, it’s the first to be painted in the new livery; in letters stenciled under the cockpit window, it’s designated “Amazon One.”
The jet’s tail sports Amazon’s smile logo. Yet the main branding, “Prime Air” in large letters along the fuselage, emphasizes the company’s focus on high-revenue Amazon Prime customers, who pay an annual fee for two-day, no-charge shipping, unlimited streaming of movies and TV shows, and other services.
Clark said Thursday the airplane fleet is needed “to meet the incredible growth we see in Prime customer demand for high-speed deliveries in the U.S.”
As a further nerdy nod to that goal, Amazon changed the Federal Aviation Administration registration of the jet to N1997A. The company went public in 1997 and that number is a prime number (a mathematical term for a number divisible only by itself and 1).
Company spokeswoman Kelly Cheeseman said Amazon will try to get prime-number registrations for its entire airplane fleet.
Amazon’s air force is just the latest arm of its ever-expanding delivery operation.
Last year, Amazon began deploying a dedicated fleet of 4,000 tractor-trailers, also branded Amazon Prime in large letters.
Amazon says these new ground and air fleets are meant to supplement, not replace, the third-party carriers — FedEx and UPS among them — that have long delivered its packages.
The aggressive expansion has raised suspicion that Amazon may one day turn its transportation network into another revenue stream by delivering packages for other companies, becoming a competitor to FedEx and UPS.
Yet Clark said the fleet of 40 widebody jets is intended strictly for Amazon business.
“Right now, everything going on those planes is inventory held in Amazon fulfillment centers and sold on the Amazon website,” he said. “And we have more than enough package supply to utilize the 40 planes we’ve procured.”
Clark also said Amazon for now is focusing its air operation on the U.S. domestic market and has no plans yet to expand internationally.
Could Amazon later buy new 767s from Boeing or perhaps even larger freighters such as 777s or 747s for international routes?
An aviation executive involved in discussions regarding Amazon’s needs said the supply of younger used 767-300 passenger jets suitable for conversion to freighters is limited and Amazon might want to ensure certainty of its supply by buying new.
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That person said Boeing is discussing the sale of 20 of its 767s to Amazon.
The setting for Thursday’s unveiling of Amazon One was suggestive: Even though the plane was a used jet, not bought from Boeing, it was displayed in a Boeing hangar at Boeing Field, with many Boeing personnel present, including Bruce Dickinson, the vice president in charge of the 767 and 747 jet programs.
Boeing’s hosting of the event shows the jet maker is certainly keeping close to Amazon. Yet Clark deflected all queries about possible future purchases.
“Today the only thing we’re announcing is this plane and the 40 we have. We continuously evaluate and will add as needed,” Clark responded. “If that day ever comes, Boeing would be a great partner.”
Also present at the media event were Joe Hete, chief executive of cargo airline and lessor ATSG, and Bill Flynn, chief executive of cargo operator Atlas Air.
Wilmington, Ohio-based ATSG is leasing 20 of the 767s to Amazon and operating them for the retail giant. It’s also providing loading and unloading logistics for Amazon’s entire air fleet.
ATSG deployed its 10th Amazon 767 last week. By the end of this year, it expects to have a total fleet of 60 aircraft, of which 15 would be Amazon planes, with five more to be added by next summer.
Purchase, N.Y.-based Atlas Air is leasing to Amazon the remaining 20 aircraft and will operate them. The jet at Seafair is the first provided to Amazon by Atlas.
Last year, Atlas hired 375 pilots and is growing dramatically. By the time its 20-jet Amazon fleet is complete, Atlas is expected to have more than 90 aircraft.
Flynn said Atlas will hire 400 to 500 pilots just for its Amazon operation.
As this air expansion of Amazon’s logistics takes shape, the Seafair aerial display provides a high-profile marketing debut.
“We very purposely wanted to do this in Seattle … for our employees and to share with the community,” said Clark.
The Amazon plane will fly over Lake Washington on Friday through Sunday from 1:15 to 1:30 p.m., just before the Blue Angels display.