Amazon has bought four Boeing 767s formerly flown by Qantas to bulk up its Amazon Air fleet of cargo jets.
The online retailer's fast-growing freight airline will also welcome seven Boeing 767s from Delta Air Lines, in what represents the first outright purchase rather than ongoing lease of aircraft.
Qantas flew its last Boeing 767 passenger jet in December 2014, after 30 years in which the mid-sized twin-aisle jet dominated international routes to the Pacific (including New Zealand, Fiji and Honolulu) and Asia.
“It really launched Qantas into the Asia marketplace – Japan, China, Indonesia, the Philippines, all those sorts of places where we couldn’t really support the larger 747 aircraft,” reflected Qantas Boeing 767 Captain Mike Galvin during the jet's farewell flight. “With 250 passengers it was just perfect.”
The 767 was later swung onto domestic routes, from the high-traffic corridor between Sydney and Melbourne to the transcontinental trek linking Australia's east and west coasts.
Aircraft in the 40-strong Qantas Boeing 767 fleet were either scrapped for parts or sold off, with Canada's WestJet picking up four jets across 2015-2016 to launch its own international services to London as it sought to challenge incumbent Air Canada.
(Another Qantas Boeing 767 ended up serving as Israel's Air Force One.)
In July 2020, as the coronavirus pandemic reshaped demand for air travel, WestJet announced it would retire all four Boeing 767s, which had largely been replaced by the arrival in its hangars of modern and more fuel-efficient Boeing 787s.
Amazon Air goes for growth
New owners Amazon will now gut WestJet's Boeing 767s, removing most of the 320 seats to make way for pallets packed with Amazon boxes bound for customers.
That cargo conversion will be complete later this year, after which it'll be the turn of the ex-Delta Boeing 767s to go under the knife and join the Amazon Air fleet in 2022.
By the end of next year, Amazon expects to have more than 85 planes in service, a spokesperson for the company said.
Amazon Air currently holds leases on 52 Boeing 767s and 22 Boeing 737s.
Seattle-based Amazon has rapidly expanded its air cargo operations in recent years, part of an effort to speed up delivery of packages to customers and supplement capacity from such carriers as United Parcel Service.
As Amazon has built up its own delivery operation, which includes tens of thousands of cargo vans, the company has gone out of its way to highlight its continued reliance on other cargo companies.
From customer to competitor
But Amazon already handles most of its own deliveries and has emerged as competitor to partners that only a few years ago delivered almost all of the company’s goods. FedEx in 2019 said it wouldn’t renew its air-delivery contract with Amazon.
A report last year estimated that Amazon’s fleet would likely grow to 200 aircraft in the coming years, rivalling UPS in size. Amazon operates mostly from smaller, regional airports close to its warehouses, routing packages between locations to accommodate quick delivery.
The Boeing 767 deal marks the second time Amazon has taken advantage of the depressed market for aircraft since the Covid-19 pandemic crippled air travel and sent many aircraft into storage.
In June, Amazon said it was leasing an additional 12 planes. As with the leased planes, the newly purchased aircraft will be operated by contractors.
“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, the vice president who runs Amazon’s air fleet, said in a statement.
“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.”
Additional reporting by Bloomberg