Tourism & Cruises

Atlas Air CEO stepping down. It ‘has nothing to do with that crash,’ analyst says.

Cargo airline Atlas Air pilots pressure the company after recent close calls due to pilot error

Cargo airline Atlas Air is under pressure from its pilots after several close calls due to pilot error that have happened recently.
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Cargo airline Atlas Air is under pressure from its pilots after several close calls due to pilot error that have happened recently.

The president and CEO of Miami International Airport’s biggest cargo airline is stepping down from his role.

Bill Flynn will terminate his 13-year tenure at the helm of Atlas Air Worldwide Holdings in January 2020 and become chairman of the company’s board. His successor, current chief operating officer John Dietrich, will take over as president immediately and CEO in 2020. A spokesperson for the company said the change in leadership has been in the works since last year.

“It has been a great privilege to lead the company through this period of tremendous growth, and strengthen our position as a leader in global aviation outsourcing,” said Flynn in a statement released by the company Tuesday. “I am proud of our dedicated and experienced employees, and the business we have built as a team.”

A spokesperson for the company said the move is unrelated to the safety concerns among the airline’s pilots. In 2017 pilots confronted Flynn and Dietrich at an annual meeting in Miami about their concerns related to the lack of experience among new pilot recruits, according to a recording of the meeting obtained by the Miami Herald.

In February, an Atlas plane crashed outside of Houston after leaving MIA, killing all three pilots on board.

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Kevin Sterling, managing director and senior analyst of Seaport Global Securities LLC, called the change a “natural transition.”

“This change has nothing to do with that crash,” Sterling said. “This is business as usual.”

Dan Wells, an Atlas pilot and president of the pilot’s union, agreed. “We don’t see it as some seminal event,” he said. “If this was a new guy from outside, that would be something to talk about, about changing things. I see this as shuffling of the chairs at this point.”

Atlas Air Worldwide Holdings, formed in 2001, is the parent company of four cargo airlines — Atlas Air, Polar Air, Southern Air and Titan Aviation Leasing. Since 2010, the company’s fleet has grown from 29 planes to 114, boosted by Amazon and Department of Defense contracts. The company made $270 million in profit in 2018.

Pilots say the Atlas training program has not kept up with the dearth in cockpit experience, creating an unsafe environment as the company continues to expand. The pilots’ union and the company have been trying to negotiate a new contract since 2016.

The National Transportation Safety Board continues to investigate the February crash. The NTSB so far suspects pilot error was the cause, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Taylor Dolven covers the tourism industry at the Miami Herald, where she aims to tell stories about the people who work in tourism and the people who enjoy it. Previously, she worked at Vice News in Brooklyn, NY, where she won a Front Page Award from the Newswomen’s Club of NY for a national investigation of police shootings.