Celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month: Meet Our Colleagues

Each year in the United States, Hispanic Heritage Month – a celebration of Hispanic history, culture and achievements – is observed from September 15 – October 15.  Today we introduce you two of our colleagues who share what their culture means to them.

Erika celebrating the final 747 earlier this year.

Erika Melany Barcenes, Senior Aircraft Maintenance Planner

How long have you been with the Company, and what are your primary responsibilities? 

I have been with Atlas Air for six years. I started as contractor for the aircraft records department and joined the company as a full-time employee six months later. A year later, I moved over to maintenance planning department, where I have been since. I was living in New York and working out of our headquarters; but moved to Cincinnati (CVG) last year.

As part of maintenance planning, my team is responsible for preparing A-checks, C-checks, Scheduled Engine Change (SER), Scheduled Apu Change (SAR) and line work orders. The beauty of this work scope is that the work gets scheduled all over the world and we work hand-in-hand to ensure that stations are well equipped and prepared, so the operation goes as planned. This is done for every aircraft on our Atlas and Polar fleet as we must ensure that all our aircraft are safe and compliant at all times.

Erika flying with two pilot friends who also happen to be Hispanic pilots. (L-R) Erika, William Daza, who is Colombian, and Christian Ramos, who is Salvadorian.

How did you get your start in aviation and what is the best part of aviation?

I was born in Jamaica, Queens in New York. My family is from El Salvador and I’m the first one in my family born in the United States. Growing up, we often visited my family in El Salvador and I would spend summers there with my grandparents. As a kid, I loved being on an airplane and feeling the adrenaline rush when the plane took off the runway.

As I got older, I knew I wanted to get involved in aviation. I went to Vaughn College to obtain a bachelor’s degree in aviation and took the opportunity to become a pilot, one of my childhood dreams. I am a commercial pilot but am not currently flying due to a medical issue. After I graduated from Vaughn College, the school helped me find work in the aviation industry. I started at Emirates Airline working in ticketing, customer service and sales for three years, before a colleague of mine Kinlok Poon (Sunny) here at Atlas, referred me to the Company.

I love being part of the maintenance planning department and that I get to communicate with teams from different parts of the world. My team is very close, and we all look out for each other.  Our Senior Director Michael Henry and Senior Manager Jason Jerrick are amazing to work with, and we go to them when things become challenging, and we need to find a solution. We have different groups based on our fleet types. Communication is extremely important in our department so that we do not make any errors. Our work is very challenging everyday but that’s what I love the most about it. I love trying to find solutions, it keeps me alert. I’m always busy and I never get bored. I’m always learning new things within the department.

Erika took this photo while on vacation visiting the Tamanique Waterfalls in El Salvador.

What does Hispanic Heritage Month mean to you?

Hispanic Heritage Month is a time for Hispanics from all different backgrounds to be celebrated, recognized and acknowledged for the work that we do in the United States. My parents, along with so many others, work hard and are the backbone of this country. I love that we have a month to celebrate each other and our contributions to this amazing country.

How are you Celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month this Year?

When I lived in New York, we would always go to festivals and eat food from all different Hispanic cultures.  My favorite food from El Salvador are pupusas, a thick corn tortilla that can be stuffed with various fillings, including various meats, refried beans, cheese and vegetables.

A photo Erika took of sunrise in El Salvador near the Pacific Ocean in the Libertad (a municipality in the country) as she was exploring the mountain views by the ocean.

The filled corn tortillas are then cooked to perfection on a traditional grill referred to as a comal. The best thing is that they can be eaten at any time.

This year, I’m excited to be in Cincinnati and see what the celebrations are like here. I will definitely be trying Hispanic restaurants in the area.


737 Captain Pedro Iraheta Garcia Prieto in the cockpit.

Pedro Iraheta Garcia Prieto, 737 Captain

How long have you been with the Company, and what are your primary responsibilities?

I joined Atlas Air in 2017 as a First Officer on the 767. I upgraded to Captain on the 737 in January 2022. In November, I will return to the 767 and will start my training as a Captain on that fleet.

My primary responsibilities are to ensure the safety and security of the operation of the aircraft as well as that of the crewmembers and passengers onboard. I am also responsible for adhering to Company and FAA regulations.

Pedro during his upgrade ceremony to Captain with Senior Director Flight Procedures Training and Standards John Schumacher.

How did you get your start in aviation and what is the best part of aviation?

I have known I wanted to be a pilot for as long as I can remember. I grew up in El Salvador and was introduced to flying at an early age. My grandfather was a pilot and had his own airplane and my father’s good friend was a well-known and well-respected pilot for TACA International Airlines on the 767 in El Salvador. I have so many memories of visiting the flight deck of the 767 whenever we flew commercial. It fascinated me and that’s where the dream of becoming a 767 Captain started.

After high school, I came to the United States to go to Embry-Riddle. I started my career in Peru, which is where I first saw an Atlas Air 747. It wasn’t until four years later, when I returned to the U.S. and was attending an aviation fair, that Atlas Air became a real possibility for me. I left my resume with a recruiter and my dream of flying the 767 was realized when I was hired as a First Officer on that aircraft.

In addition to making my dreams come true, I would say the best part about aviation is bringing people together. The most rewarding part of my job is when I bring service members home to their families.

Pedro with his family.

What does Hispanic Heritage Month mean to you?

Hispanic Heritage Month is an opportunity to showcase our culture, our traditions and our contributions. I have a strong desire to help people; I am the Co-Chair of our Union’s Mentoring Committee and I have supported pilots from other countries looking for jobs in the United States. I trace this to my upbringing – my family comes from a long line of coffee farmers and I was raised to treat everyone the same way, regardless of their economic position, and to lend a helping hand whenever possible.

Pedro in the cockpit with his children.

How are you Celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month this Year?

I don’t think my family and I specifically celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month, because we live it. The most important thing to me and my wife – who’s from Peru – is that we keep our heritage front and center for our two children, since they are growing up so far from where we are from. We speak Spanish at home, we eat Spanish food and we stay connected with our families in El Salvador and Peru.