Over the weekend, a cargo jet operated by Atlas Air Worldwide Holdings under lease to Amazon Air, suddenly crashed on approach to Houston’s George Busch International Airport. The aircraft originated in Miami.

According to reports, the converted Boeing 767 crashed into Trinity Bay in about five feet of water around 12:45 pm Central time while on approach to the airport. Tragically, all three crew members on-board perished in the accident.

Reports indicate witnesses stating that the aircraft took a sudden nose-dive into the bay. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) indicated to reporters that preliminary information showed: “no evidence of the aircraft trying to turn or pull up at the last moments.”

The chairperson of the NTSB further indicated that the aircraft took a “very, very rapid dive” prior to crashing. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) indicated that airport radar and radio communications lost contact with the aircraft about 30 miles southeast of the airport. The last radar signal from the aircraft was from 5,800 feet and then the aircraft dropped suddenly.

As of this writing, the aircraft’s flight data recorders had not as yet been found.

According to a report by The Wall Street Journal citing an informed source, there were reportedly local storm conditions near the airport and the aircraft was instructed by controllers to avoid flying into a storm cell.

Atlas Air operates a total of 112 cargo aircraft including 20 Boeing 767 aircraft operated on lease to Amazon Air. Many of these aircraft were acquired on the secondary market. The particular aircraft involved is over twenty years old.  The accident itself represents the first fatal accident involving Atlas Air.

It further represents the second large air freighter accident involving multiple fatalities after an August 2013 accident involving an Airbus 300 aircraft operated by UPS crashed short of a runway approaching the airport in Birmingham Alabama. A subsequent NTSB report of that accident pointed to pilot fatigue as the major cause.


Supply Chain Matters Initial Perspective

First and foremost, we extend our deepest condolences to the families of the three victims of this accident. We understand that in addition to the two Atlas crew members, a pilot for Mesa Air Group was riding in the jump seat of this aircraft.

As with all air accidents, Federal safety officials will thoroughly investigate this accident as to its findings. Similar to other accidents of this type, factor that are sure to be looked at are aircraft systems failure, pilot fatigue or weather conditions at the time of the accident. The relative age of the particular aircraft may be a factor.

A likely tone related to the accident investigation will likely be the stress that is placed on air cargo pilots that have to fly regardless of weather and regardless of fatigue.

Atlas Air itself has had a less than amicable relationship with its pilots. In September 2017, the cargo carrier filed an injunction against pilots to stop what was alleged to be an intentional slowdown in work activities. Courts upheld the injunction.

The chapter of the Teamster’s labor union that represents Atlas Air pilots issued a statement:

We were tremendously shocked and saddened at the loss of our fellow crew members and the jump seat rider in the tragic crash of Atlas Air Flight 3561 near Houston, Texas yesterday. We all understand the risks associated with our profession as with any other; yet we are all humbled when such tragedies as this occur. We urge everyone to not become involved in speculation or rushes to judgment. We are very fortunate to have the experts from the FAA, NTSB, FBI and so many other organizations that will; in due time, determine the cause of this accident. We extend our heartfelt thanks to the local law enforcement, first responders and civilians who responded so quickly to the scene. We collectively; the company, union, pilots and industry, will learn from it and we will move forward. It is what we do.

Supply Chain Matters also shares in that sentiment- let’s await investigators to determine what really happened and why.

In the meantime, we should all extend thanks to the many pilots and support professionals who keep our nation’s and indeed the globe’s air freight moving on-schedule despite the many challenges.

Thanks to all of you.


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