Amazon growth spurring investment in cargo airline and Wilmington Air Park jobs

Amazon invests $131 million for 20% ownership stake in Wilmington company

The pandemic accelerated e-commerce in 2020 — which has fueled growth for a Wilmington air cargo company and brought thousands of jobs to Wilmington Air Park.

The biggest recent development for Air Transport Services Group, based at the air park located an hour southeast of Dayton is its relationship with Amazon. The e-commerce giant exercised a warrant agreement in March to claim an ownership stake of nearly 20% of ATSG — and is poised to perhaps double that stake in the future.

That springs from an agreement Amazon has had with ATSG since 2016. Amazon could have performed a net share sale of the warrants, which operate something like stock options. But the route Amazon took instead means it paid cash for the warrants (or most of them), making an investment in ATSG of more than $131 million.

Asked what that means for his company’s future, Rich Corrado, ATSG chief executive, said in an interview Friday that the move is “encouraging for us.”

“We view that as a very good sign that they (Amazon) look at us as a significant partner for them, and they chose to take an ownership share in the company,” Corrado said.

A message seeking comment was sent to a media contact for Amazon.

ATSG provides aircraft leasing and air cargo transportation to domestic and foreign air carriers and other companies who outsource air cargo needs.

A quick look at the relationship with Amazon: ATSG had been flying 33 aircraft for Amazon. In May 2020, ATSG made a deal with Amazon for additional planes. The upshot: The Clinton County company expects to lease to Amazon 42 planes by the end of this year, while flying 46 for Amazon. (All of which is still subject to regulatory approval.)

“What we’ve told our employees since day one in 2016 ... is that we need to provide the best service in the industry for them (Amazon). And doing that, in everything we do, will provide the best opportunity for us to grow with them,” the CEO said.

Amazon also does business with other arms of ATSG. Amazon in fact has several contracts with ATSG across its different companies. Among the businesses under the ATSG umbrella: Cargo Aircraft Management (leasing), ABX Air (air cargo and passenger airlift) , and Airborne Maintenance & Engineering Services (maintenance).

Wilmington Air Park has come far since the dark days of 2008 when DHL closed its doors there, ending employment for some 8,000 or more workers.

The air park today presents a very different picture. ATSG has about 1,600 employees in Wilmington and about 5,500 globally, Corrado said. Amazon has at least 600 of its own employees in the park after a significant investment in a former DHL building there.

Dan Evers, executive director of the Clinton County Port Authority, which acts as landlord for the Wilmington Air Park, agrees that the landscape looks very different today. ATSG has made smart moves, diversifying its operations and positioning itself for the future, benefitting the air park and Wilmington as a whole, he said.

“We’re extremely pleased,” Evers said. “We’re eternally grateful. But at the same time, we’re not resting on our laurels.”

His “best guess” is that about 3,000 to 4,000 employees come through gates at the air park at a daily basis. And there is room for future expansions, Evers said.

ATSG also offers passenger airline travel for the Department of Defense and other sectors of the federal government, an area of business that was challenged last year but looks to slowly improve this year, Corrado said.

Obviously, he expects good things for cargo and leasing in 2021.

Last year, ATSG’s revenue increased $118 million to just over $1.5 billion, with operating income rising $30 million to $206 million.

ATSG’s next earnings report is due May 5. ATSG will host an investor conference call the next day.

Some analysts are forecasting a drop in earnings for ATSG. Corrado said he could not comment on those forecasts. But he said all of ATSG’s companies are in good shape for the long term.

Corrado joined ATSG as chief commercial officer in April 2010 and was elected chief operating officer in September 2017.

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