Atlas employees work every day to make a difference in their jobs, but sometimes their work has an impact far beyond all expectations.
That was the case this summer, when the Atlas Benefits Team sent a mailer to employees’ homes. These mailers, along with webinars and other communication outreach, are intended to inform employees about the many Benefits programs and health and wellness offerings available to them and their families.
This particular mailer, focused on skin cancer awareness, contained sunscreen and an ice pack in the shape of an airplane with an Atlas Air logo. When the package arrived at the Des Moines, Iowa home of 767 Captain David Cameron and his wife Ronda, what began as a clever piece of promotional merchandise turned into something more.
Ronda, a Registered Nurse, works in the Ambulatory Surgery Center at the Mercy One Medical Center in Des Moines. Half of the patients served at the surgery center are children. Procedures range from emergency surgeries following accidents and dog bites, plastic surgery for cleft lips and innovative new therapies for children with Cerebral Palsy. For those pediatric patients, many of the post-procedure protocols call for ice to be applied to the area where the surgery or procedure took place. So when Ronda opened the Atlas Air airplane-shaped ice packs, she was inspired.
“Traditional hospital ice packs can be scary for children,” Ronda said. “They are large and present one more time when the patient has to be touched. When I saw the plane-shaped ice pack that arrived from Atlas, it was a real ah-ha moment. I immediately thought that these would be a wonderful way to connect with patients in a less intimidating way.”
Ronda reached out to the Benefits team to inquire about how she could get similar ice packs sent to Mercy One Medical Center. Members of Atlas’ Benefits team thought this might be an appropriate time to pivot and coordinated the donation of the Human Resource Department’s remaining quantity of ice packs to the children at Mercy One Medical Center.
Within a week, 1,600 ice/warming packs shaped like Atlas airplanes arrived at the Ambulatory Surgery Center.
“Because we received so many ice packs, we shared them with our Pediatric Emergency Room, Child Life Specialists, Pediatric In-Patient Unit and the Mercy One Main Operating Room (OR), as they too serve a number of children with conditions more serious in nature,” Ronda said.
Ronda thanked Atlas on behalf of her team and colleagues, knowing the positive impacts these small, cheerfully shaped ice packs would have on patients while at the hospital and at home.
As David listened to his wife talk about the donation to Mercy One, he reflected on his own family and said, “Over the years we have had a couple of medical issues ourselves, and Atlas has always taken care of us. We’ve seen a real commitment from the Company to take care of their people.” When asked for a photo of Ronda and her team with the donated ice packs, David, an 11-year employee with Atlas, said of his wife, “You will have to work hard to get Ronda in the photo, because she prefers to remain in the background.”
Ronda just smiled.
When reflecting on when his dream to fly the 747 first took flight, Captain Jesse Cervantes credits his parents.
“My father spent his entire career in management at a Colombian airline so I was exposed to aviation at a very early age,” Jesse recalled. “And, because visiting family and staying connected with them was so important to my mother, I was only 40 days old when I took my first flight. We traveled a lot as a result of the benefits from my father’s job, and whenever I was on an airplane, I begged to see the cockpit. I was mesmerized by all the instruments.”
Growing up in Colombia, Jesse also learned about the importance of a strong work ethic at a young age.
“Colombians are hard workers,” said Jesse. “We are very resourceful and aren’t afraid of challenges. We believe that hard work is the key to success.”
That resourcefulness – which may just be in Jesse’s DNA – is what Jesse relied on to make his dream come true.
After moving to the United States, Jesse initially pursued a career in hotel hospitality. But he just wasn’t completely content.
“My dream was to fly the 747, and I knew I wasn’t going to be truly happy unless I tried to make that dream come true.”
Realizing that dreams take time, Jesse stayed focused.
He enrolled in flight school in Florida and earned his commercial pilot’s license. Unfortunately, jobs were scarce at the time, so Jesse made the decision to return to Colombia, where he received his International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) license. He spent 10 years flying the DHC-6, the B727, the RJ-100 and the DC-8.
In April of 2000, Jesse returned to the United States to take a job with Polar, where he began flying the 747-400. He transitioned to Atlas Air in 2001 and upgraded to Captain in 2005.
“My path wasn’t easy, and it wasn’t completely linear, but I am doing exactly what I dreamed of doing,” said Jesse. “Everything I did, every sacrifice I made during the 10 years it took me to get the job with Polar was completely worth it. I am very grateful for all that I have achieved and for all that I have today.”
“My approach to life – all aspects of it – is tied to my Colombian upbringing. My mother instilled a sense of gratitude in me,” Jessie said. “And my father, throughout all his years at his airline, taught me about commitment and loyalty. My heritage influences how I live my life and approach my job here at Atlas.”
On Thursday, September 16, at 09:54 a.m. Mountain Standard Time (MST), Atlas Air N464MC landed at Marana, Ariz. (MZJ). Its final stop was the “boneyard,” where it was to be parked and parted out in the desert, likely never to fly again.
The aircraft was manufactured in February of 1992 and first delivered to Japan Airlines. Atlas took delivery in 2011 and N464MC officially joined Atlas in October of that year.
For years, N464MC was a workhorse, flying more than 24,500 block hours on 4,460 flights, through 247 cities, and serving many customers including the United States military, collegiate and professional sports teams, corporate charters, cruise ship companies, and more.
“Atlas Air took great pride in supporting Garuda Indonesia with N464MC during the yearly Muslim Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia,” said Kevin Sarubbe, Senior Vice President, System Operations.
According to Mike Henry, Senior Director Maintenance Planning and Records, a rigorous schedule of safety and maintenance checks – 64 maintenance events in all – kept N464MC operating safely and smoothly all these years.
It’s this commitment to upkeep that keeps the airplane “airworthy,” even in its retirement.
“For the next few months, we’ll be removing certain components and adding them to our inventory to support the rest of our fleet, including the newer 747s we recently acquired,” explained Mike.
Most recently, N464MC carried 1,570 evacuees from Afghanistan to safety in the United States.
“Those final missions served as a very noble ending for N464MC,” said Mike Reingold, Passenger Service Representative Supervisor, who launched his career on this very aircraft and was honored to service it until the end.
Click here for video captured by Mike Henry, of N464MC’s arrival into Marana, Ariz.
Click here for First Officer Brian Wade’s account of the aircraft’s final flight into Ramstein Air Base (RMS).
Global health service leader Cigna has named Atlas a recipient of this year’s Cigna Well-Being Award for our strong commitment to improve the health and well-being of our colleagues through Wellness Matters, our workplace wellness program.
The annual Cigna Well-Being Award process is highly competitive. Applicants are evaluated based on the core components of their well-being programs, including leadership engagement, company culture, strategy and goals, implementation, and employee engagement. All applications are scored and reviewed by a panel of Cigna health promotion experts.
“A lot of companies seek out this award,” said Paula Kelly, Manager, Employee Health and Welfare Benefits. “The Cigna team encouraged us to apply because of the breadth of programs we offer to our employees.”
“We understand the important role employee well-being plays in a company’s success and the relationship between a more productive, satisfied workforce and business performance,” Paula continued. “This past year, we grew the Atlas wellness program significantly. We challenged ourselves to think outside the box when our employees weren’t able to go to the gym or to their usual fitness classes at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. We did our research and worked with a number of providers to find ways to deliver a range of virtual courses, such as yoga, core workouts, walking programs and more in order to meet the different interests of our employees.”
The Company’s health and wellness offerings have since expanded to include classes on meditation, workshops on anxiety, sleep and nutrition and financial webinars. The Atlas Benefits team partners with the Mayo Clinic, White Plains Hospital, WalkingSpree, Culture of Fit and Procyon Partners to bring a diverse set of offerings to employees almost every day.
According to Cigna research, well-being programs have the ability to transform company culture and change lives. Cigna’s recent “Resilience Study” found that most well-being programs yield a positive return on investment by lowering health care costs, reducing absenteeism and delivering improved productivity gains.
“At Atlas, we recognize the importance of holistic health management and support our employees with a number of tools and resources,” said Miriam Soave, Senior Director, Benefits and Compensation. “Paula’s commitment to employee wellness has truly elevated us as a company. We have received great feedback across the organization and are excited about bringing new ideas to life in 2022.”
Juan Ortiz, Jr. has been a part of the Atlas family for more than 20 years, starting in 1999 as Duty Manager. Over the last two decades, he’s supported both Atlas and Polar as certain operations were combined or shifted. In March of 2020, Juan assumed his current role as Senior Manager, Express Network Operations for Polar.
Being part of the Atlas and Polar family is second nature for Juan, who hails from a large family himself. He credits his parents’ emphasis on hard work, family, and integrity for how he approaches his work every day.
“My parents are from Puerto Rico, but they met here, in the Bronx, fell in love, and started a family. They worked really hard to make the best life possible for me and my three older siblings,” he said.
“My father, like many Hispanic immigrants, came to the United States to improve his life. His first job was as a dishwasher at the Rockefeller Center restaurant ‘Down and Under.’ He took great pride in working there as part of a community of Hispanic immigrants from Puerto Rico, Cuba, and countries across South America. For 30 years, he never complained once about his work, his coworkers, or the management team. I saw it from a young age and learned that working hard and being humble was the path to success.”
Juan also learned early on that family should always be a top priority. Coincidentally, it was the importance Juan’s parents placed on family that led Juan to aviation.
“When I was 12, my mom took me and my cousin to Puerto Rico for the first time to visit with extended family – it was my first time setting foot in an airplane,” Juan recalled. “It was a PanAm 747, and the flight attendant took me to see the upper deck. I was completely amazed by the aircraft and the feeling of being up in the air and inflight. From that moment on, I knew whatever I did in life had to involve planes.”
As a result of that trip, Juan set his sights on Aviation High School in Queens, New York. He applied when he was 14 years old and spent a grueling day taking proficiency exams, completing skills assessments related to math, engineering and mechanics, and participating in a one-on-one interview and oral examination, where he knew how he presented himself was as important as what he knew. He relied on the influence of his parents to be confident but humble, kind, and enthusiastic.
Juan was accepted to the highly competitive high school, one of only two in New York City that licensed students as FAA mechanics.
After high school graduation, Juan enlisted in the Marines on the airwing side, whereas part of Aviation Operations, he worked with both fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters.
Following the Marines, Juan joined Tower Air, where he held multiple roles including FAA flight dispatcher, system control, loadmaster, and passenger service representative. He was with Tower until he joined Atlas. In reflecting on his career, Juan shared, “I have been so fortunate to spend my entire career in aviation, a field I love, with the ability to take on new roles, learn new things and collaborate with great people. We all hail from different walks of life but what we share is a passion for flight and an interest in solving challenges and helping people.”
As Senior Manager of Polar’s Express Network Operations, Juan works closely with the EOC (Express Operations Center) in CVG (Cincinnati / Northern Kentucky Airport) and serves as the direct liaison with Brussels to oversee the network schedules. In addition, he manages the first 24-72 hour flight period to make sure scheduled service operates on time and that Polar’s DHL Express client has a direct line of sight into all flights at all times. Juan is also responsible for long-range planning and is currently working on Spring and Summer 2022 schedules.
“What I enjoy most about my role is that no two days are the same. I have to know the ins and outs of every flight, back-up plans, contingency routes, what’s being shipped, what the requirements are, and what aspects outside of our control might impact on-time performance,” Juan explained. “As a result, each day presents a new opportunity to think differently. That’s what makes it so exciting.”
Juan said his Hispanic heritage serves as an important foundation for his career success.
“I treat my colleagues like family, just like my dad did. We spend a lot of time together; we rely on each other’s strengths, and we support each other,” he said. “Additionally, speaking Spanish has helped tremendously in my international role. Communicating with people in their primary language can help them feel more comfortable, especially if there’s a challenge to overcome.”
Juan and his family make time to gather together to celebrate their heritage every fall. With his wife and five children, his three siblings, and their spouses and children, they honor his now-deceased parents who worked so hard to give them the best opportunities.
They prepare family favorites including pernil, arroz con gandules (rice with chickpeas), pasteles, octopus salad as well as a few traditional American barbecue selections such as hot dogs and hamburgers. The entire family dons t-shirts featuring the Puerto Rican flag and a special tribute for Juan’s ma and pa.