ATR 72 to join Amazon Air fleet Photo 142466862 Air © blurf
ATR 72s to join Amazon Air fleet. © blurf

Amazon’s freighter operations keep expanding at a double-digit rate, heralding some strategic shifts.

A new study, published by the Chaddick Institute for Metropolitan Development at DePaul University, has kept track of the progress of Amazon Air and shows turboprops entering the game, with widebodies for intercontinental operations on the horizon.

Between last August and this month, Amazon Air increased its lift by 14%, its fleet growing from 73 aircraft to 88, with 54 B767 freighters continuing to dominate the line-up and B737s making up most of the rest.

Amazon Air’s flight activity went up 14.3% over the period, to 187 flights a month currently, which is 31% more than in March 2021.

The biggest expansion was in Europe; increases in North America focused primarily on boosting frequency between the company’s US hubs.

ASL Aviation Holdings, Amazon’s Irish partner, spearheaded the European expansion, fielding six B737s for the e-commerce behemoth, up from just two a year ago. In addition, it acquired five more 737s that appear to be carrying Amazon traffic.

According to the Chaddick study, the Amazon Air operation in Europe has grown from eight to 18 daily flights since last August, and this is complemented by a rapidly growing network of “partner flights”, using aircraft not registered to Amazon Air, which now appear to encompass some 20-24 daily flights.

Amazon’s European coverage now spreads across six countries, the greatest activity registered at Cologne-Bonn and Paris Charles de Gaulle airports, each averaging 5.8 flights a day. It does not extend east beyond Germany and Poland, nor does it touch Scandinavia, which leaves large areas untapped.

Joseph Schwieterman, professor of public service management and director of the Chaddick Institute, does not see an imminent push into these regions, though, explaining: “Amazon appears committed to a dense network, concentrating on western and central Europe.”

But he expects some move in the intercontinental arena, pointing to reports that surfaced in October about Amazon shopping for B777 or A330 freighters and the acquisition of a larger stake in Atlas Air.

The study concludes: “We feel significant transoceanic flying is coming, due to the mounting supply chain problems facing nearly all retailers and the sheer scale of Amazon’s logistical needs. Bringing more transoceanic shipping ‘in-house’ will give it heightened control over its supply chain.”

Last year, Amazon’s fleet mix changed with the introduction of ATR 72s and four of the six new US destinations are served with these turboprops. Mr Schwieterman expects the number of ATRs in the fleet to rise from the current five and more short-haul routes to come into the mix. The addition of the ATRs strengthens Amazon’s capability to offer next-day service across the US, and it would be in line with an apparent shift in the company’s strategy, he says.

“The new expansion drive is putting Amazon closer to more consumers,” Mr Schwieterman added. The recent network expansions have put 72.2% of the US population within a 100-miles of an airport served by Amazon Air, an increase from around 60% a year ago. This has amplified Amazon Air’s capacity to take on third-party traffic for next-day delivery across the US to supplement its own volumes, the Chaddick report finds, adding that the turboprops have further bolstered this capacity.

But Mr Schwieterman does not anticipate a massive push from Amazon to solicit third-party volumes and is more likely to experiment and cherry-pick traffic, he reckons.

To offer next-day across the US, Amazon would have to introduce some night flying, he said, but so far, has shown no inclination to go down that road, which suggests management’s primary focus remains on positioning goods at warehouses.

Looking ahead, Mr Schwieterman expects a continuation of Amazon Air’s strategy in the latter part of last year, which should translate into an increase in flight activity of 20-24%, the addition of four or five more airports to the network and more expansion at the large hubs.

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