Wall Street reacted cautiously to the death of Atlas Air founder, chief executive and majority shareholder Michael Chowdry. The US cargo carrier's share price fell after news that 46-year-old Chowdry and passenger, Wall Street Journal aerospace reporter, Jeff Cole, had died on 24 January when Chowdry's ex-military Aero Vodochody L-39 Albatross jet trainer, piloted by Chowdry, crashed soon after take-off from Front Range airport outside Denver, Colorado.

The price recovered when it became clear that a strong management team remained in place at Atlas, with the firm's executive vice-president, Richard Shuyler, becoming chief executive, and executive vice-president Jim Matheny continuing in his post as head of airline operations.

Nevertheless there is some concern for the future of the carrier as Chowdry, who founded Atlas in 1992 and retained a 47.3% stake after last year's initial public offer, was a "hands-on" chief executive, personally negotiating many of the airline's wet-lease deals.

The carrier operates 37 Boeing 747 freighters, 12 of which are -400s, with orders for four more of the type. Chowdry had been negotiating purchases for Atlas with Airbus and Boeing, including new widebody twinjet freighters and a 150t payload freighter fleet: an Airbus A380 or Boeing 747X.

Atlas has grown rapidly by operating freighters for other carriers under so-called ACMI (aircraft, crew, maintenance and insurance) contracts. Although the cargo market is growing there is increasing overcapacity as more widebody freighters enter service.

Pakistan-born Chowdry learned to fly in a cropduster, says Shuyler, eventually buying the company he worked for. He was qualified to fly aircraft up to the Boeing 737, and bought the Czech-built L-39 jet trainer around two years ago.

The L-39 is popular with warbird enthusiasts, and is flown in the USA under experimental category rules for private use only. TwoL-39 accidents have occurred in the USA, both in 1998, says the National Transportation Safety Board, which is investigating the Chowdry crash. In one, two died, after the aircraft went missing over Lake Michigan.

Source: Flight International