Taking advantage of the pandemic-driven downturn that has led airlines to retire passenger jets early, Amazon announced Tuesday that it bought 11 used Boeing 767s from Delta and WestJet of Canada during 2020 for conversion to air freighters.
The new additions to the fleet are the first planes owned by Amazon. Amazon Air’s current fleet of 767s are all leased from two air cargo companies, Atlas Air and Air Cargo Transport Services Group (ATSG). Amazon will continue to rely on third-party carriers to provide crews to fly and maintain the aircraft.
A person with knowledge of Amazon Air’s fleet said that after all 11 planes are converted to freighters, the online retail giant will have more than 85 aircraft, almost all Boeing 767 widebodies.
Sarah Rhoads, vice president of Amazon Global Air, said in a statement that “purchasing our own aircraft is a natural next step” and that the “mix of both leased and owned aircraft in our growing fleet allows us to better manage our operations.”
Amazon bought four aircraft from WestJet in March, the company said. These are currently undergoing passenger-to-cargo conversion and will join Amazon Air’s network this year.
The Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) aircraft registry shows that the seven aircraft from Delta were transferred to Amazon in late December. Those jets will enter Amazon’s air cargo network in 2022, the company said.
Prior to the pandemic, the main barrier to Amazon growing its aircraft fleet was the scarcity of available 767 passenger jets for conversion to cargo use. However, the severe downturn in air passenger traffic since March 2020 has led airlines worldwide to park jets, especially larger widebody aircraft, and to retire some of their passenger planes early.
The seven Delta 767s Amazon is taking, all manufactured by Boeing in 2000 or 2001, were among the youngest 767s in the airline’s fleet, according to an analysis by the air freight industry newsletter CargoFacts.
All seven of the Delta jets have been parked at desert airfields since the pandemic hit the U.S in March, six in Victorville, Calif., and one at Pinal County Airpark in Marana, Ariz., which serves as a long-term storage site and a boneyard for hundreds of scrapped aircraft.
Since Amazon Air’s launch in 2016, it has expanded its presence globally. Last year, Amazon launched its first-ever air hub in Germany and in the U.S. set up new regional air operations in Austin, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, New Orleans, Richmond, San Francisco, Tampa, and Hawaii and Puerto Rico.