A Boeing-converted 737-800BCF (32882, ex-China Southern Airlines) was spotted in China this week sporting an Amazon Air “Prime Air” livery similar to what is customarily associated with what emblazons the e-tailer’s 767F network, a clear indication the operation will soon add a new fleet type. Shortly after photos of the aircraft were leaked to Twitter, Amazon confirmed its intention to foray into narrowbody operations with the 737-800BCF.
Despite the aircraft’s present location at the STAECO facility in Jinan, China, where passenger-to-freighter conversion was completed, Cargo Facts expects the-800BCF to operate in North America, alongside Amazon Air’s existing fleet of 767Fs. Even though Amazon Air does not currently utilize narrowbody freighters in its US own-controlled air network, both of its current own-controlled network partners have experience with the platform. Atlas Air affiliate Southern Air operates 737Fs in the US, and in Europe, ATSG-affiliate West Atlantic operates four 737-800BCFs on behalf of FedEx.
Regarding the incoming 737-800BCFs, Amazon said in a statement, “We are excited to expand our Amazon Air fleet that enables ultra-fast, free shipping to customers,” but did not elaborate regarding how many narrowbodies would be added initially, or which carrier would operate them on Amazon’s behalf.
One new, but not unexpected variable to the Amazon Air equation is GECAS. When Amazon made the decision to launch an own-controlled network in the US built around the 767F platform, forty aircraft were put into service within two years. Even when Amazon moved to further increase capacity in December 2018, more than a few units were added. The e-tailer’s second deal with ATSG was for the lease and operation of at least ten but up to twenty-seven additional 767-300Fs, to be added to the operation. When it comes to 737-800BCF narrowbody operations, it’s hard to imagine a network without a bit of scale.
At this point in 2019, there are few lessors apart from GECAS that have access to large numbers of 737-800 passenger aircraft suitable for conversion to freighter configuration. Multiple Chinese carriers, including YTO Cargo Airlines and China Postal Airlines placed launch orders for the 737-800BCF, but have not yet converted aircraft in large numbers due to difficulties in sourcing feedstock. This is beginning to slowly change – China Postal Airlines’ first 737-800 was recently inducted for conversion to freighter configuration in Jinan. GECAS, meanwhile, has over 220 737-800 passenger aircraft in its portfolio. The lessor has made clear its intention to convert at least a quarter of these aircraft into freighters. Total orders and options for -800 conversions number at least seventy for fifty 737-800BCFs and twenty 737-800SFs conversions from Aeronautical Engineers, Inc. However, GECAS was not available for comment on the terms of any agreement with Amazon.
Just how many GECAS-owned 737-800s ultimately will end up operating on behalf of Amazon Air remains to be seen. Having already delivered -800Fs to Atran, ASL Airlines, Ethiopian, and West Atlantic Airlines, the operator roster for this freighter will not be limited to Amazon. Sources familiar with conversion capacity at STAECO have suggested that GECAS aircraft, most of them bound for Amazon Air, will tie up conversion lines in Jinan through 1Q20.
Those interested in learning more about narrowbody freighter conversions are invited to join us at Cargo Facts Asia 2019, to be held 15-17 April at the Langham Shanghai. This year’s speaker faculty includes executives from from AEI, Boeing, GECAS, and many more. For more information, or to register, visit www.cargofactsasia.com.