AIR TRANSPORT SERVICES GROUP INC
A US air cargo and transportation company, which operates charter deportation flights for the US government
Air Transport Services Group Inc (ATSG) is a charter cargo and passenger airline operating primarily in the U.S. and Canada. It is the largest provider of charter flights to the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD), which in 2020 accounted for 31% of its revenue. The company’s other major clients include Amazon, which is a partial owner (see below), shipping companies DHL and UPS, and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), for which ATSG provides deportation flights (see below). Other than charter flights, the company also provides air transportation services such as aircraft leasing, aircraft maintenance and modification services, logistics, and training. ATSG owns three charter airlines with a combined fleet of 106 Boeing aircraft and reported a 2020 revenue of $1.5 billion.
ATSG is partially owned by Amazon, which acquired a 19.5% stake in ATSG in 2020, and has the option to increase its share to 40%. ATSG reports having a “long-standing, strategic customer relationship” with Amazon, which accounted for 30% of ATSG’s 2020 revenue. ATSG’s cargo airline Air Transport International is one of two airlines that comprise the bulk of Amazon’s air fleet (“Amazon Air”), since Amazon established it in 2016. ATSG reports as an advantage the fact that it is headquartered at the Wilmington Air Park in Ohio, which Amazon also uses as a regional hub. Another ATSG subsidiary, Cargo Aircraft Management, has contracted the Israeli military company Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) to convert Boeing 767 aircraft from a passenger to cargo configuration for Amazon’s fleet. As of 2019, 80% of Amazon’s cargo planes were reportedly converted by IAI.
Omni Air International, ATSG’s passenger charter airline, is the sole provider of “special high-risk charter” deportation flights for ICE. These are flights that involve deporting people who “fail to comply” with ICE’s orders or other “high-profile” deportations, and are different from most ICE deportations, which are handled either by routine charter flights to Central America or by booking seats on commercial flights. As specified in government contracting documents, Omni Air effectively has a monopoly on “high-risk” deportation flights, as no other company can provide these services on ICE’s schedule. The planes used for such deportations are Boeing 767s and 777s.
ICE does not contract Omni Air directly for deportation flights, but through an intermediary broker company called Classic Air Charter, which arranges most ICE air deportations. This contract, which started in 2017, is worth a potential $737.9 million and can be extended through 2023. It is unknown how much of this amount ends up in the hands of Omni Air, however the company charged ICE $33,500 per flight hour and a total of almost $1.8 million for one deportation flight to Bangladesh, India, and Vietnam in 2019.
On many of the “high-risk” deportations that Omni Air operates, ICE puts people into a device called the WRAP, a full body, straitjacket-like restraint. Anecdotal accounts indicate that this process often involves pinning individuals to the ground face-down on the ground before the flight, beating them up while they are in the restraint, and using TASERs to subdue them. The WRAP device is manufactured by Safe Restraints, a privately-owned company based in Diablo, CA. It is also used by hundreds of law enforcement agencies and prisons across the U.S. and has been implicated in multiple fatalities.