Add Pittsburgh and Kansas City, Missouri, to Amazon’s (NASDAQ: AMZN) rapidly growing network of airports served by its in-house cargo airline, which helps the company cut ground transport times and quickly deliver online orders to businesses and consumers.

The first Amazon Air flight arrived at Pittsburgh International Airport on Wednesday, the airport authority said in a news release. Amazon Air will operate daily flights to the city using a Boeing 737-800 freighter operated by contractor Sun Country. 

The announcement comes two weeks after Amazon Air opened its Western region hub at San Bernardino International Airport in California and Finnair Cargo began flights to Pittsburgh for a limited time.

Amazon has built Amazon Air over five years into a significant express delivery carrier to support two-day and next-day delivery for its Prime customers. Amazon’s online retail sales increased nearly 39% last year and now represent a third of all U.S. e-commerce sales, according to Digital Commerce.

Amazon Air now flies to more than 40 U.S. airports. It is leasing 50,000 square feet of space at PIT, and the site is expected to support more than 50 jobs. The facility will include an onsite area to sort packages bound for their next destination and will be managed by Trego-Duncan Aviation. 

Meanwhile, another 737-800 freighter flying in Amazon’s colors began daily flights Wednesday from Lakeland Linder International Airport in Florida to Kansas City, the Kansas City Aviation Department said. Amazon’s 34,000-square-foot warehouse space at the Kansas City airport is managed by PrimeFlight Cargo.

“Growing the network of sites where Amazon Air flies is essential to supporting fast, free shipping for our customers,” said Chris Preston, director of Amazon Gateway Operations, in a statement.

Amazon is expected to move into a $1.5 billion national air hub at Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky Airport in September.

Amazon says it has more than 70 branded  aircraft in its active fleet, with flying activity outsourced to carriers such as Sun Country (NASDAQ: SNCY).

Amazon Air’s flight activity keeps growing incrementally each month. Analysis of recent research from Susquehanna Financial Group suggests the airline operates about 140 flights per day in the U.S.

The 660,000-square-foot sort center in San Bernardino began handling Amazon Air flights before any ruling on lawsuits against it brought by the state of California and environmental groups. Amazon Air is operating a daily flight to the airport, but that will increase to six daily flights by July and nine by the end of the year, according to the San Bernardino Sun.

Cargo PIT stop

Cargo has become a bigger part of PIT’s business plan as officials work to position the airport as an alternative gateway for air cargo. Its major advantages are abundant space and speed. Ground teams at Pittsburgh can process much faster than crowded international gateways geared to support large volumes of passenger traffic. It also is geographically located within a one-day truck drive of major population centers in the Midwest and along the Eastern Seaboard.

In March, air cargo volume at Pittsburgh grew 29% compared to 2020 as cargo carriers increased operations there and utilized larger aircraft, according to the airport authority. 

Last month, Finnair began flying cargo-only passenger aircraft nonstop from Helsinki. The temporary operation using Airbus A350-900 aircraft, which initially carried automotive parts from Asia, is scheduled to last through May. Airline officials said there is a possibility the service could expand beyond the initial schedule.

Workers from Worldwide Flight Services unload cargo from a Finnair flight on April 27, 2021, at Pittsburgh International Airport. (Photo: Beth Hollerich/Pittsburgh Airport)

It is the first scheduled A350 service of any kind to PIT.

In December, Qatar Airways resumed cargo operations at PIT with a weekly flight using a Boeing 777-300 Extended Range aircraft with seats temporarily removed to increase capacity utilization while passenger traffic remains low. Cathay Pacific hauled freight for a logistics customer for three months last year using a similar aircraft.

The airport said FedEx and UPS also have boosted their operations at PIT, with the carriers increasing year-over-year flights by 46% and 83%, respectively, in March.

UPS has added an additional daytime flight from Louisville and added larger aircraft to existing flights. FedEx also increased its presence at PIT during the first quarter, including the addition of weekday flights to Newark, New Jersey, and Indianapolis.

Smaller passenger, or dedicated cargo, airports such as Chicago Rockford, Rickenbacker airport in Columbus, Ohio, and Greenville-Spartanburg Airport in South Carolina are also seeing a rise in freighter flights as logistics companies and their customers look to avoid multiday backlogs at major airports such as Chicago and New York’s JFK.

Click here for more FreightWaves stories by Eric Kulisch.


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