Sun Country Pivots to Boxes

Sun Country Pivots to Boxes

Partnership with Amazon moved forward as passengers mostly grounded.

Sun Country Airlines revealed this week that it has moved forward by a full quarter a plan to diversify its business model by acquiring freighter aircraft and flying them for Amazon. The first flight will take place next week with the entire 10-plane cargo fleet active by July, said CEO Jude Bricker.

Sun Country, like all passenger airlines, has been devastated by the Covid-19 pandemic, filling only a quarter of its seats in April after drastically reducing its flight schedule.

The Amazon alliance was originally intended to facilitate growth in winter passenger flying by finding work to keep a growing pilot force active September through November when the airline operates the fewest flights. Instead Sun Country will begin flying Amazon freight in May and maintain the work indefinitely.

The U.S. DOT has given the airline permission to operate as few as six flights a week over four destinations from MSP (in exchange for federal aid and maintaining payroll), but for now the airline is scheduling more flights, carrying some end-of-season snowbird travel. Bricker, like every airline CEO, has little sense of when air travel will rebound but feels that Sun Country’s market position, its modest fleet of owned aircraft, strong charter business, and now Amazon, provides some of the best revenue diversification in the industry.

He indicated owner Apollo Global Management of New York had planned an IPO for this year, which will likely not take place in the industry’s depressed state.

Amazon flying will only keep 40 percent of its pilots active and none of its flight attendants. Bricker said the airline found more employees than expected to take unpaid leave-of-absences, and hope that combination of factors, plus federal aid, would keep it solvent until fall.

The airline is just now opening bookings for key travel months next year and is awaiting booking data to get a sense of how confident passengers are about 2021’s vacation season.