The Story Behind the Aircraft
Kalitta Air is a Michigan Limited Liability Company owned 100% by Conrad Kalitta. Kalitta Air began service in November 2000 with three Boeing 747 aircraft and the fleet has grown to a present total of 24 B747-400 freighters and 8 B767-300 freighters. Capable of air express delivery of virtually any type of freight, the company provides scheduled or on-demand charter service for customers in the United States and around the world. Mr. Kalitta was honored as the 2018 recipient of the prestigious Ronald N. Priddy NACA-CRAF Partners in Airlift Medal (“Priddy Medal”) presented by the National Air Carrier Association. Most recently Mr. Kalitta was enshrined into the Michigan Aviation Hall of Fame in April 2019.
Kalitta has a lifetime of experience in the airline industry that goes back to 1967 when he began transporting parts for the automotive business with a twin engine Cessna 310 that he piloted himself. Over the years, Kalitta grew from a one airplane operation into a substantial airline conglomerate, American International Airways, Inc. (AIA), that used B747, L1011, DC8, B727, DC9, Twin Beech and Learjet aircraft in worldwide airfreight, air ambulance and charter passenger operations. AIA supported the Desert Shield/Desert Storm operations with award winning efforts. AIA was one of the world's 25 largest airlines with revenues in excess of $400 million derived from both scheduled and on-demand air charters as well as third party engine and airframe maintenance service.
In 1997, AIA merged with Kitty Hawk, Inc. and Kalitta resigned from the company and the Board of Directors to pursue other interests, mainly to start another company -- Kalitta Leasing. Kalitta Leasing is an aircraft brokerage company that buys, sells and leases large aircraft. By April 2000 Kitty Hawk International (the former AIA) ceased operations and filed Chapter 11. Dismayed that the airline he built from scratch was shut down, Kalitta fought to purchase the Aircraft Certificate and resurrect the airline. Kalitta Air received its DOT and FAA authority to begin operations in November 2000 and immediately began revenue service.
Kalitta quickly obtained the necessary approvals from the government and secured contracts with the USPS and the DOD. After the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, when airports were closed and all flights were grounded, there was one plane in the sky that night that was not an F-16 fighter. It was a Kalitta Air 747 hauling relief supplies from the West coast to aid disaster workers. In 2003 Kalitta was awarded a Certificate of Appreciation for support of the Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom Operations and Kalitta continues to support the USPS with scheduled flights delivering mail and packages to the soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan.
In addition to resurrecting the airline, Kalitta has also revived the aircraft maintenance facility in Oscoda, Michigan which was once the home of the old Wurtsmith Air Force Base. The FAA recently presented Kalitta Air with The Diamond Award which is the FAA’s highest honor for maintenance training. Utilizing most of the airport and several hangars, over 600 employees work around the clock to maintain the aircraft.
Kalitta is also known as a professional drag racer in the Top Fuel class of the NHRA. In fact, it was his winnings in drag racing that enabled him to purchase the Cessna 310 that started him in the airline business. Kalitta was inducted into the Motorsports Hall of Fame in June of 1992 for his tremendous contribution to the sport. He has won five world championships and has set the world's speed record on more than one occasion. Although not currently in the driver’s seat, he is the team owner and crew chief of two NHRA Top Fuel dragster teams and two NHRA Funny Car teams. In 2016 Kalitta was the recipient of the first-ever NHRA Lifetime Achievement Award. In 2017 Kalitta was presented with an award by the British Drag Racing Hall of Fame recognizing him for operating one of the most successful Top Fuel and Funny Car teams in NHRA history over a period of six decades.