Some intriguing news out of Seattle last week: Amazon.com Inc. (NASDAQ: AMZN) may be considering acquiring its own fleet of airplanes to handle the company’s deliveries. The very notion must send chills up and down the spines of FedEx Corp. (NYSE: FDX) and United Parcel Service Inc. (NYSE: UPS).
Amazon has been running a trial delivery service out of Wilmington, Ohio, sources told the Seattle Times, at an airport once used as a hub for DHL US Express. An unnamed company (presumably Amazon) has leased five Boeing Co. (NYSE: BA) 767s on what the industry calls a “wet lease.” Such a lease includes aircraft rentals, crews, maintenance and training teams, kind of a package shipping deal.
According to the Seattle Times report, the unnamed shipper was flying out of Wilmington to Allentown, Pa.; Ontario, Calif.; Tampa, Fla.; and Oakland, Calif. Amazon has distribution centers near all four airports. The trial program even had a code name: Aerosmith.
Friday’s reports said that Amazon would lease as many as 20 Boeing 767s to haul its goods, an expansion of four times the number of planes it currently operates. Among many other considerations is the availability of airplanes.
A new Boeing 767-300 freighter carries a list price of $199.3 million. Even after the usual discount to list prices, a new plane likely would cost at least $100 million. The Seattle Times notes that leasing a new 767 costs between $600,000 and $650,000 a month. That’s a lot of money, even for Amazon. So the company probably will either buy or lease used 767s.
According to a Spring 2015 price list based on IBA/Ascend data, a used 767-300ER passenger jet can cost between $5.5 million and $65 million. A monthly lease can cost between $150,000 and $480,000. Both purchase and lease costs are based on a particular airframe’s age. Add to that a few million dollars more to convert the passenger version to a freighter.
In July, FedEx placed a firm order for 50 767-300F freighters in a deal $9.97 billion at list prices. FedEx has also placed an option on another 50 of the planes. At that time FedEx’s fleet included 23 767-300s and another 37 were already on order.
If Amazon decides to begin operating its own fleet of airplanes, the company will need to be able to fill its planes year-round, not just during the holiday season. That would put Amazon in direct competition with FedEx and UPS, among others, and that is not a good place for Amazon’s freight-hauling competitors.
The company has shown time and again that what matters to Amazon is market share, not margins, and by leasing the aircraft, the company can avoid many of the overhead costs that the other major delivery services cannot. Amazon is expected to make a decision on expanding the current test program by the end of January.
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