In the EU, e-commerce giant Amazon has started flying goods on intra-European sectors. The air services were secretly launched at two airports: Leipzig-Halle and Cologne-Bonn.Operators are the DHL subsidiaries European Air Transport (EAT), DHL Air, third party airlines flying on behalf of DHL Express, and Dublin-based capacity provider ASL Aviation.
Anyone asking the participants for details, encounter a wall of silence. “All parties involved have signed a strict non-disclosure agreement,” a voice said. Adding that the project is highly sensitive seen by the fact that emails sent by Amazon executives to other parties involved in the project, are considered as being top secret, even missing the Amazon manager’s names and contacts. It is believed that from the e-commerce trader’s point of view, this high level of confidentiality is a protective measure to safeguard the enterprise’s equity price. This, because any wrong word at a wrong time could influence Amazon’s stock price in one way or another.
Flights have started
However, the details of the project will be known anyway, because in open societies some non-initiated will get wind of it sooner or later and tell media.
Having said this, here is what is known so far and confirmed to CargoForwarder Global by different people close to the case:
Since mid-April, two Boeing 737 freighters operate daily flights from Cologne-Bonn to Italy and Spain on behalf of Amazon. The aircraft are most probably wet leased from provider ASL Aviation’s French subsidiary – but this still needs to be confirmed. Next on the list is Poland that will be serviced with an ATR freighter.
The situation is similar in Leipzig-Halle where some Boeing 757Fs from the DHL fleet together with freighters belonging to third party carriers have been flying for Amazon for months already, completely unnoticed by the public.
At nighttime the freighters are slotted into DHL’s established pan-European express network again.
Smart work sharing model
Blueprint for Amazon’s European air network is the hub-sharing partnership agreed between the e-trader and DHL in 2017 and executed since then in Cincinnati, Ohio, DHL’s large North America hub. Similar to Leipzig, the Deutsche Post daughter utilizes its Cincinnati (CVG) ground facilities at night for sorting and distributing their own express shipments, while Amazon secured the building’s use and its equipment at daytimes for their business. A smart work sharing model, that pays off for both partners as shown ever since.
Following the Cincinnati example
At the time the player’s CVG collaboration was kicked off, Bea Garcia, DHL’s media relations director for the Americas, was quoted by local media as saying: “DHL has been contracted to provide a range of services to Amazon at the DHL Cincinnati Hub, including sorting operations and ground handling for the Amazon air network.”
She went on to say: “We look forward to providing further support to this global customer.” And – as things stand – this support has now started on the other side of the big pond at Leipzig and Cologne, both following the Cincinnati pattern.
While DHL’s LEJ hub is its largest worldwide, their Cologne-Bonn presence will be reinforced this autumn, almost doubling the sorting capacity. Throughput processes will be enhanced from semi-automatic to fully automated sorting.
It cannot be excluded that Brussels and East Midlands in the UK, where DHL runs sub-hubs, might also play a role in the Europe-wide cooperation with Amazon. But if so, supposedly only at a later date when their partnership in the EU has further progressed.
“Well advanced talks”
Although most of ASL’s freighters are based in Liege, the airport doesn’t seem to play any role in Amazon’s European air net strategy. Market experts point out that their fiercest rival, Chinese e-trader Alibaba and their logistics division Cainiao invest heavily in Liege’s ground infrastructure, thus gaining a foothold in the European e-commerce landscape. Therefore, the Belgian airport was scrapped from Amazon’s list of potential hubs. However, “negotiations between ASL and Amazon for setting up an intra-European air network operating from other airports than Liege are well advanced,” could be heard from internal circles. Sources pointed out that Hanover could be a further potential candidate for Amazon’s European air network, offering 24/7 ops as do Leipzig-Halle and Cologne.
Resembling a lottery
Flying time-critical e-commerce items intra-Europe is the only option for Amazon and any integrator such as DHL Express or UPS that promise their customers time guaranteed services. This because trucking has meanwhile become completely incalculable due to the many jams, deviations, high traffic density on highways or construction work. Therefore, intra-European road feeder services resemble a lottery nowadays.
Against this background it can be expected that Amazon’s pan European air network will grow fast.