News on 21 October that Hawaiian Airlines has agreed to operate at least 10 Airbus A330-300 Freighters for Amazon comes as more airlines benefit from e-commerce demand.

“This relationship provides a catalyst to grow our business and the unique opportunity to diversify our revenue sources while capitalising on our established strengths,” said Hawaiian chief executive Peter Ingram.

Indeed, despite recent wobbles in markets including the USA, the e-commerce sector is seen as a good long-term bet for the air cargo industry, even as pandemic-related uplifts subside and the global economic outlook darkens.

Amazon A330F thumb

Source: Airbus

Hawaiian will operate the A330 freighters for Amazon

Crucially, airlines offer the only solution to quickly moving goods over long distances within countries and across borders – a prerequisite for meeting consumer demands for speedy e-commerce deliveries. For parts of the air cargo sector that grapple with the volatility that comes with competing against shipping, for example, such a built-in advantage is highly attractive.

E-commerce was estimated by IATA to have accounted for 15% of air cargo revenues in 2019, and its growth as a proportion of retail markets has grown rapidly since then, partly due to a boom in online purchases during Covid-19 lockdowns but also as the long-term shift away from physical shops continues. 

And while Amazon’s size means it is looking to Hawaiian for widebody capacity, another outcome of the e-commerce boom might be more conversions of smaller jets to serve thinner markets.

On that topic, 20 October saw Embraer firm an agreement to convert up to 10 passenger E190s and E195s into cargo jets for Irish aircraft lessor Nordic Aviation Capital (NAC).

Embraer cited “a global structural transformation” in e-commerce and trade when it launched the passenger-to-freighter (P2F) conversion programme for E-Jets in May.

The other airframers are banking on the same trend.

Speaking in September, Mike Doellefeld, vice president of commercial freighter conversions at Boeing, was upbeat about prospects for the 737-800BCF, citing “strong demand for e-commerce and the emergent express cargo market”.

ST Engineering vice-president Tan Boon Keng meanwhile name-checked e-commerce as he said in September that slots for its A320P2Fs are fully booked.

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