Comment: Has Amazon really added flights to China? UPDATED

01 / 06 / 2017

Reports circulating this morning [June 1] suggest that Amazon has launched “direct air cargo flights” between the US and China.

The report, originating from the Xinhua news agency, suggests that the e-commerce giant has added flights from New York, Chicago and Los Angeles to Zhengzhou Xinzheng International Airport in the Henan province.

The flights, the report claims, were carrying food, clothes and household appliances.

However, reports involving Amazon should be treated cautiously, given the size of the company and its tight lipped approach to the press.

In fact, all the sources Air Cargo News has spoken to, including some well placed people, have said that the reports are completely incorrect.

Air Cargo News has approached the e-tailer for comment on the reports and is awaiting a response.

We should also bear in mind that there is often confusion as to what exactly constitutes an air cargo service.

For instance, Air Cargo News is often told by companies they are launching a “new air cargo service” when they have signed up to take block space on an existing service run by another carrier or have begun offering cargo space on an existing passenger flight from their parent.

Another example is forwarders saying they have launched a new air cargo service from origin A to destination B, when in fact they have just agreed a space deal with an airline on a certain pre-existing routing.

These subtle differences are more often than not picked up by the trade press, but the distinction is not always clear to local reporters that have minimal contact with the industry.

This is also true of Amazon. In March, the Wall Street Journal published a story with the headline “Amazon Plans Air Cargo Service for Chinese Customers” referencing a new Chinese logistics site owned by the e-tailer.

The report was quite vague on what exactly the service constituted, and admitted as much, but closer inspection of the Amazon logistics site suggested that these services would actually be part of a freight forwarding offering, rather than it actually flying an air cargo service itself.

The reports from Xinhua news agency are most likely to be conformation that Amazon’s air cargo forwarding operation is now underway, rather than breaking news that the e-commerce firm has expanded its air cargo operation further and is actually flying aircraft between China and the US.

On the other side, it should be considered that Amazon is known for pushing into new industries, including logistics.

Two years ago, there can’t be many people in the industry that would have thought the e-commerce company would have set up its own air cargo operations in the US and Europe.

A quick inspection of flights departing the Chinese airport over the last 12 hours [from June 1] and the coming 12 hours showed that the only carriers heading to the US were National, Cargolux and Yangtze River Express.

Cargolux had two flights leaving last night – one heading to Chicago-Kuala Lumpur and occasionally Singapore and the other to Anchorage and then Chicago. Yangtze was also flying from the Chinese airport to Chicago via Anchorage and Shanghai.

There were no direct flights to New York or Los Angeles at the time of looking.

But whatever the reports do actually mean, the news again highlights Amazon’s continuing push into air cargo, logistics and forwarding and that it should be taken as a serious threat.

Article updated on June 2 after feedback from sources