Amazon hires Hawaiian Air to fly rented Airbus cargo jets to replace older freighters

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Air cargo containers with the logo of Amazon are seen at Miami International Airport, in Miami, Florida, United States on June 16, 2021.
Marco Bello | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images

Amazon has hired Hawaiian Airlines to fly the first Airbus cargo planes in the retail giant’s air network, aircraft that will help replace older jets, as the carrier becomes the latest passenger airline to fly for the company.

Hawaiian will fly at least 10 Airbus A330-300 converted freighters for Amazon, with the first ones starting in the fall of 2023, the carrier said in a filing.

Hawaiian shares surged as much as 13% in early trading following the announcement.

The Airbus jets, which will be the largest in its fleet, are not for net growth, but instead meant to replace older aircraft getting phased out as their leases expire or are close to their operating life, an Amazon spokesperson told CNBC.

Amazon has expanded its dedicated air unit in recent years, whose operations are outsourced to several airlines, including Atlas Worldwide Holdings and ATSG, which fly Boeing 767s for the company, the planes with which Amazon began the air arm.

Amazon is still figuring out which of the older jets will be phased out, the spokesperson said.

Sun Country, a leisure-focused carrier, began flying converted Boeing 737 freighters for Amazon in 2020, when travel demand collapsed early in the Covid pandemic.

“These A330-300s will not only be the first of their kind in our fleet, they’ll also be the newest, largest aircraft for Amazon Air, allowing us to deliver more customer packages with each flight,” Philippe Karam, director of Amazon global air fleet and sourcing, said in an Airbus news release.

Air cargo was a hot segment of aviation during the pandemic when consumer travel plunged and port snarls drove up rates, but the market has since cooled. A surge in travel has meant more capacity has entered the market in passenger belly planes, port congestion eased and consumer habits shifted, driving down the cost of air cargo.

Under the agreement, Hawaiian is issuing warrants for Amazon to acquire up to 15% of its stock, exercisable over the next nine years. Amazon has similar agreements with other air cargo providers ATSG and Atlas.

Hawaiian said it will set up a pilot base in the continental U.S. and hire more aviators, mechanics and dispatchers to support its Amazon flying.

Hawaiian said it will hold an investor and media call at 4 p.m. ET on Friday to discuss the plan.

Sophie Tremblay

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