Amazon Prime Pilots Launch Tuesday Protest

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When Amazon.com Inc. (NASDAQ: AMZN) initiated its Prime Air cargo service, it contracted with two existing cargo carriers to supply both the planes and all the pilots, training, crews, and maintenance for the service. The contract carriers, however, are having a difficult time meeting the initial goal of having 40 Prime Air planes in the air by 2018.

Pilots who fly for the two airlines plan to hold a protest at Amazon’s Seattle headquarters on Tuesday calling attention to staffing shortages.

Amazon leased 40 planes from Air Transport Services Group Inc. (NASDAQ: ATSG) and Atlas Air Worldwide Holdings Inc. (NASDAQ: AAWW). Each carrier is supplying 20 Boeing jets to Prime Air.

A long-time Atlas pilot, Capt. Robert Kirchner, said:

Prime Air pilots are taking our concerns about staffing shortages at our carriers to Amazon executives because we want Prime Air to succeed.We are losing a record number of pilots at an unsustainable rate due to sub-standard pay and benefits, and unless something is done to tackle these issues, the future of Prime Air is at stake. Our airlines are playing with fire by undercutting pilot standards at a time when the country faces an unprecedented pilot shortage, and we hope Amazon will tell our airlines it’s time to get serious about working with us to resolve the staffing crisis and protect their new business venture.

According to a press release from the Airline Professionals Association, Teamsters Local 1224, representing pilots and crew at 11 U.S. airlines, conditions at Atlas Air “could undermine the carrier’s commitments to Amazon:

Since the start of the year, Atlas’ efforts to hire more pilots have come up alarmingly short – though it has hired approximately 180 pilots thus far in 2017, the company has lost more than 100 pilots in the same period. Atlas has seen nearly as many pilots leave the company in the first half of this year as it did in all of 2016.

The industry as a whole is suffering a severe shortage of pilots and the pilots say that the Prime Air contracted carriers are taking on the work despite known staffing, attrition, and retention problems, and these issues will only get worse.