Amazon Buys Planes From U.S. Airlines Struggling With Pandemic Slowdown

Amazon Buys Planes From U.S. Airlines Struggling With Pandemic Slowdown
File photo of a Boeing 767 branded with Amazon's Prime Air (Photo: Ted S. Warren, AP)

Amazon has purchased 11 passenger planes from Delta and WestJet that will be converted into cargo jets, according to a press release from the Seattle-based online retailer. It’s the first time Amazon has purchased planes outright rather than just lease them and comes as the airline industry struggles from a slowdown in demand during the covid-19 pandemic.

The 11 planes are all Boeing 767-300 aircraft, seven from Delta and four from WestJet. The planes from WestJet are already being converted into cargo aircraft and will join Amazon Air’s fleet this year, while the Delta planes will become part of Amazon’s network in 2022.

Launched in 2016, Amazon Air has recently established hubs in Germany and the U.S., along with other countries, as it seeks to rely less on companies like FedEx and UPS to ship goods around the world. While Amazon Air now owns eleven aircraft, the company still relies on third party carriers to operate its planes.

Amazon didn’t disclose how much it paid for the planes, but airlines have been scrambling to unload its older aircraft as demand for passenger flights continues to suffer across the globe. The covid-19 pandemic has forced many airlines to make tough choices, and while vaccines are currently being rolled out, there’s no guarantee consumer demand will bounce back immediately in 2021.

The U.S. still has astonishingly high coronavirus case numbers, with over 21 million covid-19 cases identified since the pandemic began, and more than 357,000 American deaths. TSA screened roughly 1.3 million passengers on Sunday, Jan. 3, the end of the holiday weekend, the highest number since the start of the pandemic, though still about half the passengers it screened on the same day in 2020.

The airline industry’s loss has been Amazon’s gain time and again throughout the pandemic. Americans are staying home more and companies that provide online shopping have reaped the benefits.

“Our goal is to continue delivering for customers across the U.S. in the way that they expect from Amazon, and purchasing our own aircraft is a natural next step toward that goal,” Sarah Rhoads, Vice President of Amazon Global Air, said in a statement published online.

“Having a mix of both leased and owned aircraft in our growing fleet allows us to better manage our operations, which in turn helps us to keep pace in meeting our customer promises.”