E-commerce giant and surveillance technology purveyor Amazon is already in your walls, your doorbell and your secret union drive Facebook group, but the question on everybody’s lips is: When will they be more in the sky? The answer, apparently, is soon.
According to a report released on Tuesday by DePaul University’s Chaddick Institute for Metropolitan Development, Amazon is on track to double the size of its aircraft fleet between May 2020 and June of this year. As it currently stands, Amazon Air is making an average of 140 flights per day — a number that is expected to hit a “growth spurt this spring,” as the company expands.
“As new airplanes are added to the fleet, we anticipate the number of flights will grow to 160+ by June 2021,” the report says. “If it reaches this milestone, Amazon Air will have approximately doubled in size in the 13 months between May 2020 and June 2021.”
Given Amazon’s pioneering one and two-day delivery goals, having a fleet of planes at the ready is an increasingly integral part of the company’s growth strategy. During the Covid-19 pandemic in particular, Amazon has quickly scaled up investments in its delivery arm, and ended 2020 with about 70 planes in its fleet — a number that was expected to grow to more than 80 by the end of 2021, the company announced in June.
According to CNBC, that kind of growth could soon put Amazon in the big leagues alongside commerce rivals like FedEx, UPS and DHL, which operate 463, 275 and 77 planes, respectively. That development could get underway in earnest later this year, when the company is planning to officially cut the ribbon on its brand new $1.5 billion air hub in Kentucky, which is planned as a home base for the company to use in weaning itself off of dependance on private competitors and the U.S. Postal Service.
But even as it awaits its moment to level up in the cargo industry, Amazon appears to already have its eyes on an even bigger prize. Joseph Schwieterman, director of the Chaddick Institute, told CNBC that the company’s recent decision to cut ties with outside contractors and bring its air cargo operations entirely in-house could signal an eventual ambition to significantly expand Amazon Air into something resembling an airline.
“If you’re just leasing planes, you don’t set up an internal staff that has expertise in heavy maintenance and things like that,” Schwieterman said, indicating that the move puts Amazon “one step closer to being set up to run like an airline.”
“I think Amazon’s enormously complicated supply chain is subject to risk when you are so solely dependent on a handful of contractors,” Schwieterman said. “One of them goes broke, or one of them cuts the cord, and suddenly you have a crisis. So I do think getting expertise on what it takes to run an airline will allow them to make strategic decisions about how much to bring in house in a methodical way.”