- Pilots for the airline Atlas Air, which operated an Amazon Air flight that crashed and killed all three of its occupants on Saturday, told Business Insider in the weeks before the crash that Atlas tends to overwork its pilots.
- Thirteen pilots who work for airlines that Amazon Air contracts with have told Business Insider that their pay and benefits fall below industry standards.
- All but one of those pilots said that means pilots on Amazon Air flights tend to be less experienced.
- “It’s a ticking time bomb,” Robert Kirchner, an Atlas pilot and executive council chairman of Teamsters Local 1224, told Business Insider weeks before the crash.
It’s still unclear what caused the Amazon Air crash that killed all three of its occupants on Saturday, but pilots for the airline Atlas Air, which operated the flight, told Business Insider in the weeks before the crash that Atlas tends to overwork its pilots.
“They don’t recognize pilot fatigue,” captain Robert Kirchner, an Atlas pilot and executive council chairman of Teamsters Local 1224, told Business Insider weeks before the crash. “They think it’s people goofing off. We have to constantly show them some of these schedules. Ninety-nine percent of the time, we’re able to prove to them that this is a fatiguing schedule.”
Atlas has contracts with Amazon, DHL, and other carriers.
Thirteen pilots who work for airlines that Amazon Air contracts with have told Business Insider that their pay and benefits fall below industry standards. All but one of those pilots said that means pilots on Amazon Air flights tend to be less experienced. Most of these pilots asked to speak on condition of anonymity for fear of retribution.
“It’s a ticking time bomb,” Kirchner said weeks before the crash.
Amazon and Atlas Air did not respond to requests for comment.
The crash was preceded by a number of questionable incidents
Atlas Air Flight 3591, the flight that crashed on Saturday, was flying from Houston to Miami. According to a statement from the Federal Aviation Administration, the plane lost signal about 30 miles southeast of Houston George Bush International Airport. It fell from 6,525 feet to 3,025 feet in 30 seconds, according to FlightRadar 24. The FAA then issued an alert notice.
There was no distress call.
It’s not yet known what the cause of the February 23 crash was. But Atlas Air has had a number of incidents in the past year.
In October, a Boeing 747 cargo plane operated by Polar Air, a subsidiary of Atlas Air, veered off the airway at the Northern Kentucky Airport. It came to stop on soft ground. No other plane on that day had a similar landing.
An Atlas Air Boeing 767 cargo airline had a hard landing in July at the Portsmouth, New Hampshire, airport. Creases around the fuselage and “substantial damage to the aircraft” was found after the flight inspection.
Amazon is building its logistics network
For decades, Amazon moved its cargo through air-cargo services from UPS, USPS, and FedEx.
But in 2015, Amazon started taking air cargo in-house. Air Transport Services Group and ABX Air told Motherboard that they were leasing two cargo jets each to Amazon, who was building an airhub at Ohio’s Wilmington Air Park.
Four years later, it’s becoming clearer that that air-cargo network is crucial for keeping down the company’s ballooning shipping expenses. Year over year, Amazon’s worldwide shipping costs jumped by 23% in Q4 2018, from $7.4 billion to more than $9 billion.
Amazon now has 40 Boeing 767s, with plans for 10 more. Last year Amazon expanded two-day-shipping availability to “almost anywhere” in the US with its additional Amazon Air capacity. Free one-day shipping is now accessible for the “majority of Prime members in the US.” Three additional Amazon Air gateways are underway in Ohio, Illinois, and Texas.
Are you a pilot who works at ABX, Atlas Air, or another cargo airline that has contracts with Amazon? Contact email@example.com.