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The Pilot Schedule

July 1998 

By Captain Hank Krakowski
Former Director-Flight Crew Resources 

Every six months we like to provide an overview of what is happening at the airline. We used to do this every year but things are happening so fast, a yearly review is inadequate.


Narrowbody Order: Soon United will announce a narrowbody aircraft order to replace the B727s which will begin to retire in 2001. The current plan has the replacement airplanes arriving before the retirements, so this overlap will cause a temporary increase in training and pilot population during the transition years of 2001-2007.


New routes and frequencies will occasionally pop up, such as SEA-NRT and Shuttle SJC-LAX. With the growth airplanes arriving at the airline, we are well positioned to take advantage of new opportunities both domestically and internationally, so don't be surprised when events like this occur with little warning. The Asian economy will still be a challenge for our Planning Department. We also are struggling with a Shuttle operation that is horribly unreliable due to the weather/airport constraints at SFO. We are looking at isolating the LAX-SFO trips/airplanes/crews from the rest of Shuttle. It would be a costly decision, but may be worth it in the long run.

B777 in the Pacific and Beyond:

The company and ALPA are in discussions about the B777 in the Pacific. If an accommodation can be reached, a larger-scale rescheduling of our international fleet would likely evolve. This would result in a mix of B777s and B400s in all theaters the Pacific, Atlantic and Deep South America. How this evolves could very well determine the viability of the HNL domicile after the B747 classics retire. It would also be likely that the SEA-NRT trip will move to a B777 as well, which is why we are not looking at a widebody SEA domicile at this time. We will also be looking to put a B777 domicile at LAX if we can secure some LAX-South America authority which we have applied for. An A320 domicile at JFK is inevitable, it is just a matter of when. Sometime in 1999 is likely.

Domicile Issues:

For some time we have been discussing the need to convert ORD B767 to international. A meeting between ALPA and the company was held in Denver a month ago and it was determined that this problem is not unique to ORD. It is probable that other bases and fleets such as the A320 will evolve situations where a large pilot population exists with only a small percentage of flying being international. A global solution needs to be developed on how we qualify and maintain the currency and comfort factor for those pilots at a base where international flying is small as a percentage of total flying. The company has sent an engagement letter to MEC Chairman Captain Glawe requesting the formation of a study team of ALPA and company representatives to map out our options. Therefore the outcome of the ORD situation, as well as other bases, will be determined by this study and any subsequent action between the company and the MEC. A solution is unlikely to evolve in the next six months.

HNL: As the B747s retire, HNL can only survive with an aircraft to replace them. The B777 is a possibility if deployed in the Pacific. The B400 is very unlikely as would be the B767. For now, as long as we fly a B747 from HNL west, the base remains viable. 

ANC: No real change here. The Planning Department has been made aware that any increase in passenger service to ANC will improve our ability to move crews and assist commuters. 

SEA: No real change here, although once the SEA-NRT mission settles into a given fleet type, and if it demonstrates success over some practical time frame, we will analyze the need for a new equipment domicile. Certainly nothing before mid to late 1999. 

SFO: Since the airport suffers from capacity issues, no real growth or change is expected, however, there may be some reallocation of flying between fleets. The B747 will assume a more domestic mission and the B400 will match the needs of the Asian economy. 

LAX: We are watching the B777 situation carefully and it would be desirable to introduce B777 flying as the DC10s retire. 

DEN: Denver will continue to grow as A320s and B767s are added to the fleet. We will close the B737-200 base by February 1999. Look for a two-phase rampdown with an initial surplus to occur late summer/early fall. Since B777 operations are reducing, there are no plans for a domicile in the near future. All other fleets will not change much. 

ORD: The big news at ORD is that the ORD-HKG nonstop will continue year round which will cause a further increase in bids for the B400 at ORD. No new missions are planned for the B777 so this fleet is stable. The DC10 is taking a big hit at ORD as Marketing is moving most of the flying to the West Coast as the airplanes retire. The ORDHNL nonstop will continue in the DC10-30 well into the year 2000. We will reduce from our current 58 lines to 20 by January 1999. The flying will be replaced with an increase in B767/757 and A320 lines. The domestic two-class B767-300s will absorb much of the DCIO shift. There will be a small reduction in B300 flying at ORD as the A320 replaces some of the longer haul flying such as ORD-West Coast that the B300s have been doing. That means fewer all nighters for the B300 and more for the A320/B757. ORD will be the only B737-200 base in our system. B727s are status quo. 

JFK: The B400 is still planned to replace all B747 flying in February 1999. The B777 looks properly staffed for now, and we will have enough pilots to fly some of the LHR trips soon. The B727 might see some small growth, and the A320 base is probable sometime mid 1999 or after. 

DCA: The new evening European bank at IAD seems to be operating well and the base continues to grow to support it. 

MIA: As the B777 assumes all deep South America flying, the B767 will fly domestic-only missions with the exception of N4IA-LIM-SCL and some South/Latin America trips that originate at ORD. MIA-Havana charters began this month using a B767-300, which would normally sit during the day. No major changes are expected at MIA. 

BOS/LAS/PHX: These are widely rumored and there are no plans or discussions ongoing. 


New Hires/Retirements:

This year we will hire about 350 pilots at a rate of 65/month for the rest of 1998. In 1999, we expect to hire at least 800 pilots at about 70/month. The deliveries of new aircraft along with increasing pilot retirements are driving the rate. We anticipate that approximately 350 pilots will retire in 1998 and 450 in 1999. (This includes age 60, MD, etc.)

Freezes and Growth:

We are in discussions with ALPA over a growing problem where our current freeze system may jeopardize our ability to grow. Unless we can bid First Officers into the growth fleets -B767/A320/B777 -- from certain fleets where pilot inventory exists and replacement training capacity exists, we will be physically unable to train at a rate necessary to supply pilots for the planned block hours. There are many sensitive issues here and no matter what we do, someone will likely feel disserviced. If we do nothing, we will have to reduce flying hours next year, which ultimately hurts everyone. We hope we will be able to work something out.

Blue Side Down:

This is my last article for the Pilot Schedule in a somewhat official capacity. My replacement, Richard Lung, is well aware of your desire for timely information about the airline, and he has pledged to continue providing it to you. See you on the line or via!