Amazon Is Getting Into Airplanes Before Drones

Prime Air is a timeframe, not an airframe

Amazon Prime Airliner
Amazon Prime Airliner
This is a converted 767 freighter. It will carry all sorts of things ordered online at 3am.Screenshot by author, from YouTube

Amazon is an empire of being "just in time." The venerable online retailer is as much a store as an intermediary, an algorithmic colossus astride the vast architecture of modern logistics. Which is to say this: when people buy something online through Amazon, the company coordinates everything from the payment to the product to the shipping between them, all to create a uniform experience. To better meet that need, and stay on top of deliveries, Amazon will now begin operating its own fleet of cargo airplanes.

From Recode:

At a media event Thursday, Aug. 4, in Seattle, Amazon took the wraps off its first “Prime Air” branded plane, a Boeing 767 owned by Atlas Air that has been converted into a freighter. Amazon announced deals with two aircraft leasing companies — Atlas, and another called Air Transport Services Group, or ATSG — earlier this year to fly as many as 40 dedicated cargo planes over the next two years. Eleven are already in operation; this is the first one that’s been painted. The idea is to provide Amazon enough shipping capacity for peak periods and flexibility for normal operations as its Prime business grows, Amazon’s Senior Vice President of Operations Dave Clark told Recode in an interview.

"Prime Air" is a converted 767 for now, but it's also the sub-brand of Amazon that eventually plans to bring packages to doorsteps by drone. Those drones, which Amazon is currently testing abroad, will eventually go straight from warehouse to delivery address, with maybe a stop or two on a streetlight perch to recharge first.

It’d be limiting to think that Prime Air was only ever going to be drones, the way that Amazon was never really going to just be an online bookstore. The airliner is part of the larger, platform agnostic vision. As long as the packages get to customers on time, it doesn’t matter to Amazon how, exactly, they get there.

Check out the first Prime Air plane below: