‘It’s a ticking time bomb’: A pilot for one of Amazon Air’s contract airlines said the company overworked its pilots

‘It’s a ticking time bomb’: A pilot for one of Amazon Air’s contract airlines said the company overworked its pilots


Atlas Air operated an Amazon Air flight that crashed on Saturday.

Michael Sohn / AP Images

  • Pilots for the airlineAtlas Air, which operated anAmazon Airflight that crashed and killed all three of its occupants on Saturday, told Business Insider in the weeks before the crash that Atlas has a tendency of overworking its pilots.
  • Thirteen pilots who work for airlines that Amazon Air contracts withhave told Business Insiderthat 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,” Captain Robert Kirchner, 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 Aircrash that killed all three of its occupantson Saturday, but pilots for the airline Atlas Air, which operated the flight, told Business Insider in the weeks before the crash that Atlas has a tendency of overworking its pilots.

“They don’t recognize pilot fatigue,” Captain Robert Kirchner, 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 contracts to Amazon, DHL, and other carriers.

Thirteen pilots who work for airlines that Amazon Air contracts withhave told Business Insiderthat 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 have asked to remain anonymous 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 toa 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.

In its final seconds, it was descending at a rate of 30,000 feet per second, according to FlightRadar 24. There was no distress call.

Read more:Amazon’s CFO highlighted the power of it perfecting its own delivery capabilities, and it’s a clear warning shot to UPS and FedEx

It’s not yet known what the cause of the Feb. 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 airwayat the Northern Kentucky Airport. It came to stop on the 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 foundafter 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, it became clear that Amazon was taking air cargo in-house. Air Transport Services Group and ABX Airtold Motherboardthat 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 clear 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.

Now, Amazon has 40 Boeing 767s,with plans for 10 more. Amazon expanded two-day shipping availability to “almost anywhere” in the US with its additional Amazon Air capacity last year. 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 contracts to Amazon? Contact[email protected].

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