Pilots Fear Carriers Are ‘Overpromising’ as Amazon Pushes for One-Day Shipping

New cargo hub comes amid a contract dispute and pilot shortage.

Amazon may end up with more cargo planes than people to fly them. Amazon
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As Amazon seeks to make good on its one-day shipping promise, in part by breaking ground on a cargo hub outside Cincinnati, a majority of pilots expected to transport goods in and out of that hub have “little faith” they will be able to deliver under existing conditions.

That’s according to an statement from the union representing them, which cites a pilot shortage resulting from stalled contract negotiations, as well as experienced pilots opting for retirement and intensified workloads and subpar working conditions for the pilots who remain. In fact, a union survey found more that 60% of pilots at these carriers are seeking work at competitors like UPS and FedEx, which offer higher pay, better benefits and more stability.

The pilots fly for subsidiaries of Atlas Air Worldwide Holdings, or AAWW, and Air Transport Services Group (ATSG), both of which have contracts with Amazon and DHL. And despite the difficulty of attracting and retaining pilots, the union says those carriers are making bigger commitments to deliver more and more, meaning pilots are flying at the last minute and on their days off.

In a statement, Robert Kirchner, a pilot for Atlas Air and the executive council chairman for Atlas Air pilots of Teamsters Local 1224, said he’s happy to see expansion but worries executives are “severely overpromising services to stay in good graces with one of their most prized customers.”

In April, pilots protested outside the Cincinnati airport for better working conditions, which they have followed up with an informational website, PilotsDeserveBetter.org, and a mobile billboard that will circle the airport, asking, “Are ATSG & AAWW misleading Amazon on the pilot shortage?”

And the union says the billboard signals pilots are ready to strike.

Amazon said in a statement it is “eager to see Atlas Air and its pilots reach a mutually agreeable resolution to their lengthy contract negotiations soon,” and “we take seriously any allegation that a delivery provider is not meeting [the] requirements and expectations of [the Amazon Supplier Code of Conduct and Federal Aviation Administration Regulations], and review accordingly.”

Meanwhile, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, Amazon Air director Sarah Rhoads and local and state politicians expressed excitement over creating 2,000 jobs in their old Kentucky home.

But, Kirchner warned, “The ground is falling out from underneath our carriers and to prevent disaster at Amazon and its new internal logistics network, Atlas Air and ATSG need to correct high attrition, low pay, and mistreatment of pilots by working with us to settle a fair contract.”

For its part, Atlas said the company is eager to increase pilot pay and is “committed to working collaboratively with union leadership.”

Calling the latest development a “publicity effort by the union,” a spokesperson said the delay in contract negotiations is “a direct result of the union leadership’s refusal to adhere to its contractual commitments” and “had union leaders followed the collective bargaining agreement, the pilots would have had a new contract—and a raise—by now.”

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@lisalacy lisa.lacy@adweek.com Lisa Lacy is a senior writer at Adweek, where she focuses on retail and the growing reach of Amazon.