Kalitta Air

Kalitta Pilots
An Aston Martin and a Porsche in front of a Kalitta Air B-777-200F in Bahrain are prepared for transport to a car show. Photo: Capt. Jeff Sterling (Kalitta)

International rescue missions, national emergency response, record-setting capacity, and million-dollar race car fleets place Kalitta Air pilots in a category all their own, yet they’ve proven to be ardent contributors to strengthening unity among the Association’s cargo pilot groups.

In December 2022, the pilots’ Master Executive Council (MEC) launched a mobile technology platform that communicates real-time emergency information among security, safety, and emergency teams to their peers through smartphone devices.

“Working in one of the most risk-exposed occupations has led our flight crews to need enhanced risk-response capabilities,” said Capt. Jeremy Keyes, the pilot group’s Master Executive Council (MEC) chair. “Whether at an airport, traveling via shuttle, or laying over at a crew hotel, having real-time peer-to-peer life safety response capabilities are critical. This communications app will allow us to push immediate critical information to our pilots worldwide, and they’ll also be able to send us requests for help in real time.” The app also includes emergency contact information for ALPA, U.S. embassies, and other agencies.

Kalitta pilots typically operate charter cargo flights for customers from the private sector, multinational corporations, individual entities, and various governments around the globe. In recent years, they flew passengers aboard two retrofitted B-747s from Wuhan, China; Japan; Europe; and Africa back to Canada and the United States during the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition, the pilot group has the distinction of being the first nonmilitary aviators to respond to help the U.S. government by transporting emergency medical supplies immediately following the September 11 terrorist attacks. The pilots have also transported unique cargo across the globe, including race cars to various Formula 1 events throughout the world.

The airline is in the process of expanding its fleet of five B-777s. The global cargo carrier has long operated an all-freighter fleet of 24 B-747-400s internationally for DHL. To keep up with demand and expanded routes, beginning this year, Kalitta will launch operations with four B-777-300ERSFs.

Referred to as “The Big Twin,” the B-777-300ERSF features a 25 percent larger big-cargo volume capability than the similar B-777-200F. Designed for long-haul flying, the Big Twin’s high-powered GE90 twin-engine efficiency burns 21 percent less fuel per ton than B-747-400 freighters, according to GE Capital Aviation Services (GECAS), the Ireland-based company leasing the aircraft to Kalitta Air. The agreement between GECAS and its partner, Israel Aerospace Industries, the manufacturer performing the conversions, launches a $400 million project to convert 50 freighters that will be added to Kalitta’s fleet.

In 2018, when ALPA became the pilot group’s certified bargaining representative, the company employed 350 pilots. As the carrier has grown, it now has more than 700 pilots and is hiring into the foreseeable future. To keep up with the growth of the pilot group, the MEC is implementing a new strategic plan. It’s also preparing to return to Section 6 negotiations for the pilots’ next collective bargaining agreement. The pilot group previously ratified a four-year agreement in February 2021 that provided improved retirement and quality-of life provisions.

Last year, the MEC cohosted the annual Cargo Association Summit in Cincinnati, Ohio. The event was aimed at facilitating collaboration with all the unions and pilot leaders throughout the global cargo industry.

“We had 70 percent of the world’s cargo carriers represented at the summit,” said Keyes. “It was about coming together and discussing the challenges that we’re all facing, sharing our insights, and collaborating to lift the standards and improve the career path of those in our profession,” Keyes remarked. The 2023 Cargo Association Summit is slated for this April in Chicago, Ill.