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Amazon takes to the skies, meaning faster deliveries for Prime members

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2016 was the year Amazon learned to fly.

In the spring, the online retail giant leased a fleet of Boeing jets to help with delivery fulfillment. Then it surreptitiously debuted an Amazon Prime airplane after a quiet nighttime flight. And not so long ago, the Seattle-based company made its first drone delivery in the U.K. So yes, Amazon aims to expand its reach — and now it’s stretching out its wings, as per a new Reuters report.

At this point, Amazon has leased no fewer than 40 aircraft for a new cargo service designed to help meet burgeoning demand by customers who know what they want and when they want it. And to help save costs, the planes are relatively lightweight while flying with full loads. That, Reuters reports, is how Amazon is “taking away valued business from FedEx Corp. and United Parcel Service Inc.”

When you buy bulky household items like paper towels from brick and mortar stores, you’re actually paying for UPS and FedEx to bring these items from warehouses to your local supermarket. And because these traditional truck transporters charge by box volume instead of weight, Amazon is helping cut its own costs by shipping large boxes by air with its own planes. Thus far, Amazon said that it’s only taken on these aircraft to expedite shipping and ensure their customers get what they want and need during the holiday season.

“Our own delivery efforts are needed to supplement that capacity rather than replace it,” Amazon spokeswoman Kelly Cheeseman told Reuters. She said nothing about whether the increase in Amazon’s air fleet is actually meant to cut costs in the future.

As Amazon expands (it already has between 35 and 50 million U.S. Prime subscribers), it’s also taking on increasingly ambitious delivery times, with some windows as small as half an hour. Reuters reports that the online retailer has planes flying to at least 10 airports around the country to help in that endeavor. And those planes are flying light. In fact, airport data shows that Amazon aircraft carried between just 37 percent and 52 percent of their maximum loads by weight. Compare that to FedEx and UPS planes, who stood at 53 percent and 56 percent capacity, based on analysis of flight data for the year ending in September 2016.

Amazon planes are also flying later, which helps the company cut shipping times even further, as later flying times means no need for stopovers.

So get ready, Prime members. Apparently, you can get what you want, and with Amazon’s new commitment to the air, you can get it sooner.

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