The first freighter jet to carry the Amazon brand is primed for its public debut in Seafair’s sunny skies, after making a stealthy flight from New York to Seattle in the middle of the night.
“It’s hard for me not to be a little bit giddy, almost. This is the first time I’ve actually seen the plane in person,” Dave Clark, Amazon’s senior vice president of worldwide operations, said at a press preview that took place behind closed hangar doors at the Boeing Co.’s Seattle Delivery Center on Thursday.
The plane, emblazoned with “Amazon” on its belly, “Prime Air” on its sides and the Amazon smile logo on its tail, will fly over Lake Washington during the Boeing Seafair Air Show at around 1:15 p.m. Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Until now, the big reveal was kept so hush-hush that Seafair organizers referred to the event only as a “Special Guest Flyover.”
The Boeing 767-300 jet is part of what will eventually become a fleet of 40 planes, transporting cargo between Amazon’s distribution centers for delivery to customers. Clark said the planes will mesh with Amazon’s network of 4,000 branded truck trailers, the Uber-like Amazon Flex delivery system, and the services provided by transportation partners such as UPS and FedEx.
“We’re doing this because of customers, and on behalf of customers,” Clark said.
Clark said Amazon’s main objectives are to streamline existing delivery operations and increase shipping capacity. Although Clark didn’t mention it, some Amazon customers have complained in the past about delays in deliveries during the holiday rush due to problems at UPS and FedEx.
As Amazon becomes more familiar with the capabilities of its growing fleet, it may be able to offer enhanced delivery services, Clark said.
“Once you have a capability, you have options to build new products and services off it,” Clark told GeekWire. “So I think certainly once we have all 40 of these planes deployed, there’s the opportunity to create new connections for customers. Inventory that might not have been available next day suddenly could be available next day for customers. But really, it’s all about building core capacity for our Prime service for customers.”
He declined to go into the financial details behind the fleet’s creation, except to say that “we’re very comfortable in the economics of this program.”
Ten planes have been flying Amazon cargo under the terms of a lease agreement with Ohio-based Air Transport Services Group, or ATSG. The plane making its debut this week is the first to be painted in Amazon’s colors, however, and it’s the first to be leased from and operated by New York-based Atlas Air.
“It’s a big part of Atlas’ future, and it ultimately will become transformative for our company,” Atlas Air President and CEO William Flynn told GeekWire.
Atlas and ATSG’s air operations have long experience flying planes for cargo delivery services such as DHL. The air carriers’ agreements included provisions that allowed Amazon to buy stakes in each company.
Over the next couple of years, Atlas Air will be phasing in 20 Boeing 767-300s to carry Amazon’s freight, under the terms of a 10-year lease and a seven-year maintenance and operation contract. ATSG says its air services will eventually operate just as many planes for Amazon: 12 Boeing 767-200s that are covered by five-year leases, plus eight 767-300s with seven-year leases.
“We’re proud to say we flew the first flight for them under this setup, and we’re happy to fly many more,” Joe Hete, ATSG’s president and CEO, told GeekWire.
Hete smiled when it was pointed out that Atlas’ jet had the name “Amazon One” painted beneath the cockpit windows.
“This is Amazon 11, as far as we’re concerned,” he joked.
The Boeing 767s are being modified for Amazon’s use at Israel Aircraft Industries, based in Tel Aviv. The ATSG planes were given a generic paint job, but Atlas had its first plane painted to Amazon’s specifications at Premier Aviation in Rome, N.Y.
“I think it’s a great-looking livery, don’t you?” Flynn asked GeekWire.
Each of the Amazon-branded planes will be registered with a prime number, serving as an “Easter egg” reference to Amazon Prime. Amazon One’s tail registration number is N1997A – which includes a prime number that also denotes the year Amazon went public.
To preserve the element of surprise, Amazon One took off from Griffiss International Airport in Rome well after dark on Tuesday, and flew through the night to reach Seattle’s Boeing Field well before dawn on Wednesday. It was kept in the hangar at the Seattle Delivery Center in preparation for its coming-out party at Seafair.
Clark said he was particularly proud to have the plane make its public debut in Amazon’s hometown, during Seattle’s most festive summer weekend. “To be able to be a part of that with our own aircraft is truly a special thing,” he said.
He said the hoopla over Amazon’s newest airliner also impressed his two sons.
“At least for this weekend, I get to be a very, very cool dad,” Clark said.