Atlas Air Worldwide (AAW), ramping up to meet rising demand from cargo carriers looking for lift, has signed an agreement with GoJet Airlines, a wholly owned subsidiary of Trans States Holdings, that guarantees the regional carrier’s pilots interviews with the widebody freight-hauling specialist.

Under the deal, the first of its kind for AAW, first officers at Bridgeton, Missouri-based GoJet with military experience will be eligible to interview at Atlas after one year. All other pilots will be eligible after two years.

“This agreement opens the door for GoJet pilots to potentially fly the Boeing 747 or 767, among the most storied aircraft in aviation history,” GoJet director of flight operations Randy Bratcher said. GoJet operates Bombardier CRJ700s and CRJ900s and feeds Chicago-based United Airlines and Atlanta-based Delta Air Lines and has a similar pathway program with Florida-based ultra-LCC Spirit Airlines.

The deal comes amid prolonged and at times testy negotiations between Purchase, New York-based AAW and its pilots following the 2016 purchase of Southern Air. The pilots, represented by the International Brotherhood of Teamsters (IBT), said Atlas management has prolonged negotiations, in part to reap continued benefits from below-market contracts.

One of the ramifications, the pilots claim, is higher-than-normal attrition in their ranks and an inability to hire enough new pilots amid the uncertainty. According to the union, Atlas added 140 pilots in the first five months of the year, or half of their goal. 

AAW declined to discuss 2018 hiring numbers, but said it continues to add pilots and meet all its customer demands. The carrier said it has about 1,800 pilots and has added 800 since 2013.

Atlas is projecting significant increases in both revenues and flying hours this year, bolstered by demand for supplemental lift from carriers around the globe as well as the ramp-up of its contract with Amazon. Atlas in 2016 signed on to provide 20 Boeing 767 freighters to Amazon Air, committing to have them in service by the end of 2018. The union claims AAW is behind schedule, but the carrier said 15 are in service, and the other five will be flying by 2019, which is consistent with what executives have said publicly since the deal was announced.

AAW president Bill Flynn said talks between the company and pilots are progressing.

Sean Broderick, sean.broderick@aviationweek.com