In the Cockpit: Get to Know Atlas Air 747 Captain Henry Lopez

How did you get involved in aviation and when did you decide to pursue it as a career?

I was born in Nicaragua, and my father used to take my mom and me to the airport on Sunday afternoons to watch planes take off and land. My father always dreamed of becoming a pilot; he joined the military hoping to fly, due to certain medical restrictions he became a serviceman instead.

Henry LopezWe left Nicaragua when I was six years old to come to the United States, moving to the San Francisco Bay area. After high school, I joined the Navy. When I left the military, I began working at Oakland International Airport as a ticket agent for American Airlines. During that time, I met a lot of the flight crews. I always thought I had to go into the military in order to fly, but the flight crews told me that was not the case and encouraged me to become a pilot as a civilian by taking flying lessons. I worked at American Airlines for seven years and during that time I was able to complete all of my required training to become a pilot.

My first few jobs were flying for private charter and corporate companies. I also flew for an air ambulance, carrying injured and sick people to hospitals.

At the suggestion of my friend, Atlas Captain Kurt Hayes, I joined Atlas in 2015 and have been here ever since. It was the best career move of my life. It has really improved work-life balance. At my last few jobs, I was always on call; here I have a set schedule and I know when I will be home with my family to help my kids with homework and attend their soccer games.

Most interesting cargo you’ve ever flown?

Donor organs. It was so meaningful to fly that most precious cargo when I worked previously for the air ambulance company, and to know I played a role helping save someone’s life.

What is your favorite origin point?

I like trips that began out of Hahn, Germany (HHN). We do a lot of crew swaps there for the military. The layover is very nice, and the hotel prepares great authentic meals for us like schnitzel, which I love!

What is your favorite destination?

Zaragoza, Spain. I love the food and the wine and the city itself is great at any time of year.

What is the best place to watch planes land?

Anchorage. As a pilot, when you are doing the preflight walkaround at the airport you have amazing views to see all different flights taking off and landing.

What is your favorite place to watch a sunset – in the air or on the ground?

Definitely on the ground, because you can share it with someone you love.

Henry with his family, daughter Alexia and Sofia, son Enrique and wife Tania in Miami International Airport.

Who inspires you?

My children. I have three kids, Enrique is 9, Sofia is 12 and Alexa is 13.  They inspire me every day.

What’s your favorite part of being a pilot?

The sense of freedom when you are airborne. Every day is a challenge and being challenged is a good thing because it keeps you sharp. With Atlas, you are always flying something new or doing something different.

Never in my wildest dreams did I think at 47 years old I would be a 747 Captain at Atlas Air. I attribute that success to the entire Atlas Air team and the hard work that this great pilot group has done to bring in more business. This year was challenging with the pandemic and I’m very grateful that I’m flying with this company.