New Amtrak CEO’s record on safety called into question

Written by David C. Lester, Managing Editor
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Amtrak’s Empire Builder derailed on Saturday, Sept. 25. (Westbound Amtrak Crescent pictured)
David C. Lester

On Monday, RT&S reported that Amtrak has hired William J. Flynn to be its next CEO and president. Flynn is presently the CEO of Atlas Air Worldwide, which operates cargo aircraft and charters. There is concern in some quarters that the management team Flynn leads at Atlas Air has not made safety a top priority in its operation.

Flight 3591, an Atlas Air Boeing 767 cargo plane, on approach to Houston’s George Bush Intercontinental Airport in February 2019, crashed, killing the two pilots and a pilot from another airline who was in the jumpseat. The plane was operating under contract with Amazon.

Business Insider is reporting that Atlas Air pilots said there is a lack of emphasis on safety and training standards, the hiring of inexperienced and inadequately qualified pilots, and low pay at the air carrier. According to the Business Insider report, union leaders and pilots have been concerned about “shoddy training standards, fatigue and overwork, poor morale, and below-industry pay” at Atlas Air, and say that these conditions have reduced the level of safety at the air carrier.

After the Atlas Air 767 crash a little over a year ago, pilots raised safety concerns, and the National Transportation Safety Board agrees with the pilots about some of them. The investigation into this crash is continuing.

Atlas Air is one of several cargo airlines that have a contract with Amazon, and some commercial aviation experts believe that safety has been compromised to some extent as these carriers work to keep up with with the heavy traffic demand associated with Amazon’s business.

In a statement to Business Insider, made by Flynn one year ago (shortly after the 767 crash), he said “Since our founding over a quarter of a century ago, we have worked hard to earn and maintain a record of safety and compliance. We are heartbroken by the loss of Flight 3591 that claimed the lives of three of our friends and colleagues. We are working closely with the National Transportation Safety Board and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to learn what happened, why it happened and what needs to be done to prevent a recurrence.”

Flynn also said in his statement that concerns raised about safety at Atlas Air were “misleading and inaccurate, and inappropriately connect the Flight 3591 tragedy with ongoing contract negotiations.”

Amtrak has had its own issues with safety, with the Cascades derailment in 2017 and the Silver Star derailment in 2018. Many in the rail industry believe that Amtrak’s safety record needs improvement and the number of accidents involving Amtrak trains must be reduced significantly, with a goal of eliminating them altogether. Detailed statistics on railroad accidents can be found on the Federal Railroad Administration’s website.

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Categories: High-Speed Rail, Intercity, Passenger, Railroad News, Regulatory, Safety/Training
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