Air Transport World

High-speed empire builder.(drag racer Connie Kalitta starts airlines)

Connie Kalitta used his racing titles and a love of flying to construct a rapidly growing international charter operation

Conrad (Connie) A. Kalitta wears two hats. Actually, a and a helmet. He became famous as a world champion drag car racer. Then, in 1970, combining his winnings with a love of flying, he became an air-cargo operator and built it into a full-blown international passenger/cargo airline with some 2,000 employees and 91 aircraft.

After a short hiatus to concentrate on his air-charter service, Kalitta went back to drag racing and in 1989, he became the first in the field to break the 290-mph barrier. In 1990, Connie Kalitta Services was changed to American International Airways. Kalitta also formed Bounty Aviation, named for his racing car--Bounty Hunter. In 1992, he spun Kalitta Flying Services out of AIA. Run by President and CEO Don Schilling, it provides on-demand air-ambulance and small-cargo and passenger services. Then, he formed American International Cargo, owned 60% by Bounty Aviation and 40% by Betty Ward, with Ward heading it up as VP and managing partner.

Between 1992 and 1994, his companies experienced tremendous growth, including the 1993 formation of American International Freight as a domestic, overnight freight operator. It is headed by VP/General Manager Steve Murray and headquartered in Terre Haute, Ind. It was formed when Kalitta took over the domestic routes and infrastructure of Zantop. Also, Kalitta formed a division for heavy aircraft maintenance in Oscoda, Mich., at the former Wurtsmith Air Force Base. Later, the operation was named Bounty Maintenance Services, a division under AIA.

Today, there are four stand-alone profit center companies with combined annual revenues in excess of $300 million and aircraft ranging from Boeing 747s and Lockheed L-101 Is to Learjets and Volpar Turboliners, the turbine-powered stretch Beech 18. They are: American International Airways, the parent company and owner/operator of the Kalitta fleet; American International Freight; American International Cargo, providing scheduled air cargo between Los Angeles and Honolulu, intraisland Hawaii and scheduled cargo service to the southern Asia/Pacific region, and Kalitta Flying Service. …

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