Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month: Michael A. Chowdry, Aviation Pioneer

Michael A. Chowdry was a Pakistani-American who combined a strong enthusiasm for flying with his entrepreneurial talents to become a major force in the aviation industry. Chowdry, who was born in Pakistan in 1954, moved to the United States in 1976. He graduated from the University of Minnesota Crookston in 1978 with a degree in agricultural aviation.

Chowdry’s initial career pursuits in aviation included piloting crop dusters and selling Piper airplanes. By the early 1980s, he was also selling and buying landing rights at a number of airports. He launched the company Aeronautics Leasing in 1984; this enterprise leased passenger airplanes to major carriers such as British Airways, Pan American, and Trans World Airlines.

In 1992, Chowdry’s career took a huge step forward when he founded the cargo carrier Atlas Air. This New York-based company has since grown into a formidable competitor in the aviation industry, operating a fleet of more than 80 airplanes and serving a total of 426 destinations in 123 countries.

Chowdry’s significant success in establishing and nurturing Atlas Air placed him on Forbes magazine’s annual list of the 400 richest Americans. He also established himself as one of the wealthiest American businessmen of Pakistani descent. Tragically, however, Chowdry lost his life in 2001 when a private airplane he was flying crashed in Watkins, Colorado. His passenger Jeff Cole, the aerospace editor for the Wall Street Journal, was also killed in the crash.


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