Delta Airlines decided to retire its 767-300ER aircraft earlier this year, and some will soon have a new career as Amazon cargo planes.
Delta has a reputation as a clever aircraft buyer. They often bought second-hand aircraft, but not too old, typically. And they generally bought them outright, keeping payments to lessors to a minimum. This proved to be a wise strategy in the pandemic. With their entire fleets grounded, airlines bled millions of dollars per day. Not having to make payments on planes that don’t fly, certainly helps.
Delta owns its Boeing 767s outright. The aircraft have seen some nice upgrades over the years, like new winglets. When they decided to retire them in the pandemic, Delta knew there would likely be some demand for them. And now Amazon Air has bought three of Delta’s 767-300 aircraft.
All three former Delta 767s had the airline as their first owner. They’re all about 20 years old, which is within the time frame in which many jets start their second career, in cargo. Amazon actually bought the jets outright, in their passenger configuration. Generally speaking, Amazon has so far leased aircraft and then contracted cargo operators like Atlas, to operate them.
Prime Air has also been working on drone deliveries. This is where most observes felt its future lay, when it came to company-owned air vehicles. Clearly, Delta’s 767s proved everyone wrong!
How the Delta 767s Fit In Amazon’s Strategy
Despite “delegating” its air cargo operation, Amazon has had a direct effect in the 767’s cargo career. Demand for the aircraft has had a marked effect in the amount of available conversions for the aircraft. So now, with the purchase of these three Delta 767s, Amazon Air stands to benefit from the market it helped create.
It may need to stand in line, however. As we saw a few days ago, the amount of freighter conversions has exploded, in the pandemic. Cargo operators know that high demand for their services will likely only last another 2-3 years, before long-haul passenger jets return in force. So they are investing their earnings, by speeding up fleet renewals. We saw that companies making 8-9 conversions a year, now expect to do 18 in 2021 and 25-30 per year thereafter.
Delta had over 50 Boeing 767-300ER models, and has already retired 20 of them. The rest of the fleet should go by 2025. The airline still has 767-400ERs, however. They also have orders for brand-new Airbus A330neos, but not enough to replace all 767s. However given the low-expectations for long-haul in the next few years, perhaps they will take their time to decide for more orders.
When they come, it will be interesting to see which direction new orders will be towards, size-wise. Boeing has some ideas for a new career for the 767, that could interest Delta.