Amazon unveils Prime Air, its new cargo plane

In a partnership with Boeing, Amazon's first cargo plane will take to the skies on Friday, Aug. 5. The company will use Prime Air to deliver goods to Amazon Prime members.

Ted S. Warren/AP boxes are shown stacked near a Boeing 767 Amazon 'Prime Air' cargo plane on display on Thursday, Aug. 4, 2016, in a Boeing hangar in Seattle.

Amazon unveiled its first branded cargo plane Thursday, one of 40 jetliners that will make up Amazon's own air transportation network of 40 Boeing jets leased from Atlas Air Worldwide Holdings and Air Transport Services Group Inc., which will operate the air cargo network. 

Amazon’s first branded cargo plane, Prime One, will take to the skies over Seattle’s Lake Washington for its inaugural flight Friday afternoon, as Amazon seeks to assume greater control over the shipping process.

The online shopping site was responsible for shipping 1 billion packages last year, and after reliability issues with outside carriers such as FedEx and UPS, the company made the decision to maintain its own fleet of cargo planes.

"Because of our growth and the sheer amount of packages," Amazon's senior vice president of worldwide operations Dave Clark said, according to the Associated Press, "we are supplementing our transportation needs."

Prime One’s flight on Friday has been a long time in the making. The company had signed a deal in March to lease 20 Boeing 767 cargo planes from the Air Transport Services Group (ATSG), The Christian Science Monitor reported.

"Since last summer, we have been working closely with Amazon to demonstrate that a dedicated, fully customized air cargo network can be a strong supplement to existing transportation and distribution resources," Joe Hete, the president and chief executive officer of ATSG, said in a statement at the time of the deal. "We are excited to serve Amazon customers by providing additional air cargo capacity and logistics support to ensure great shipping speeds."

The leases will last between five and seven years. Amazon hopes that by streamlining the delivery system, it will be able to deliver more packages more quickly and cheaply than ever before.

"They're such a big online retailer," said Satish Jindel, the president of shipping consultant ShipMatrix. "There's so much volume that if you have to add transportation for yourself, why would you pay a retail price when you can get wholesale? It makes sense."

Although Amazon still intends to rely in part on UPS and FedEx for some of its shipping, 11 of the 40 jetliners are already delivering packages to Amazon Prime customers across the nation. The remaining planes will be phased into service over the next several years.

Given Amazon’s rapid expansion, the company is exploring a number of options to help packages get to their destinations more quickly. Amazon has built several new fulfillment centers, and is even exploring more delivery options.

Amazon is also continuing to test its drone delivery: currently, the company is testing a delivery program in Britain, where drone testing regulations are less stringent than they are in the United States.

Mr. Clark hinted an exciting future for the company.

"Once you have those planes, it certainly creates the opportunity for new products for customers," Clark added. "Stay tuned and we'll see what happens in the future."

This report includes material from the Associated Press.

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