Sun Country Airlines was an ultra-low-cost carrier that flew under most radars as it pushed through a transition from full service to ultra-low-cost. However, one deal that boosted the airline’s profile was one to fly Boeing 737-800 cargo aircraft for Amazon in 2019. Simple Flying spoke with Sun Country’s CEO, Jude Bricker, to discuss the airline’s deal with Amazon.
Why the Sun Country – Amazon deal works
The partnership between Amazon and Sun Country has helped the e-commerce giant fuel its cargo network. Mr. Bricker stated the following on the cargo deal.
“[Amazon] had airplanes, and so they needed the support of a carrier that could ramp-up really rapidly and support the kind of growth profile that they had. We were a sizable operation, but not too big to where we we could give them the kind of service that they required. If they were going to other 737 operators like Alaska and Southwest that were really large, they wouldn’t be able to give the kind of attention that we give them. So. it was a good marriage. The other thing is, we get really good reliability out of older 737-800s, which is their fleet type. Their number one focus, as they’ve expressed to us deliver products reliably, and that’s what we give.”
Amazon does have its own fleet of aircraft, but it is not an airline. Instead, it prefers to work with other carriers to fly the cargo jets on their behalf to support their network. The Amazon aircraft are mostly Boeing 767s.
Sun Country can keep costs down on the Amazon deal because it is already familiar with the jet. The company had a minimal learning curve to get the jets flying for Amazon.
In addition, the Boeing 737-800 is Sun Country’s preferred fleet type. The pilots that it allocates for domestic services are also able to fly the cargo jets. This helps keep crew training costs down, as well.
Sun Country not keen to launch its own freighter brand
Some airlines operate passenger services alongside a cargo brand. For example, Cathay Pacific flies passengers under its main brand and cargo under the Cathay Pacific Cargo brand. Lufthansa has a similar model.
However, Sun Country is not keen on moving in that direction, as Mr. Bricker stated on a cargo business:
“It’s very difficult. It’s actually a very concentrated industry with UPS, US Postal Service, FedEx. now, Amazon. Air freight is really concentrated. So you can either be a charter operator in that space and subject to the whims of those customers, or you can partner with somebody, and that’s what we did.”
Even among airlines that operate both cargo and passenger brands, the cargo operation is generally smaller than the passenger operation in the fleet count.
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The passenger and cargo worlds are also very different. Cargo airlines generally fly fewer segments per day, while passenger airlines try to fly their planes as much as possible. Plus, cargo airlines usually will fly older aircraft.
Sun Country is a good partner for Amazon. It is responsive to Amazon’s concerns, has experience flying Boeing 737s, and has a reputation for successfully flying older aircraft. Plus, for Amazon, the partnership allows it to continue on its rapid cargo growth.