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"Where's My Flying"

The Pilot Schedule

by Richard Lung
Director-Flight Crew Resources
January 1999 

With the latest B777 crew rest agreement, there is a possibility that we would convert seven B400s slated for delivery in the 2000-2002 time frame to nine B777 deliveries. If this goes through, this means that we would bring the B777 fleet to 61 aircraft by 2004, up from the current plan of 52. We would take 27 more B777s over the next five years. In the short term, despite the uncertainties worldwide, the company has not appreciably changed its deliveries and retirement schedule for 1999. We are growing the fleet by a net 19 aircraft this year, composed of seven B400, six B777, five B767, two B757 and 13 Airbus deliveries, offset by four B747-100/222 and 10 DC-10 retirements. 


B400/747. The B400s will be temporarily deployed on IAD-LHR/FRA this summer (LAX/ORD crews). We may get B400s to Europe off the West Coast later this year. The B400s will also replace all of the B747s in the Pacific by June. The B747s in turn are redeployed to fly domestic hub-to-hub wingtip replacement missions, and will continue to fly HNL Mainland until at least year-end 1999. 

B777. B777s could come to the Pacific as early as July, with under 12-hour flying most likely from the West Coast to Japan and beyond tags, and three to six aircraft initially. 

DC-10/B757. Missions for the DIO and B757 should not change appreciably. As we take more 2-class 767-300s, they will be deployed on hub-to-hub missions and West Coast to Honolulu. 

Narrowbodies. The big news here is the deployment of 16 to 20 incremental narrowbody aircraft in IAD this spring. These aircraft will be sourced primarily from the growth narrowbodies that we were planning to take this year and aircraft freed up from wingtip replacement with the B747. The A320 will continue to replace the B300s and B727s on longer haul midcon missions. Look for the B727s to continue to move east to Business One markets, and the B300s to serve high utilization short-haul missions, some of which may be in U30 operations. 


The company and ALPA are using an objective framework for evaluating base openings and closings. Some of the criteria include considering: 

Schedule Efficiencies (Best Flown): Contribute to reduction in flight time credit and hotel expense in a "best flown" schedule. 

  • Permanence: Stability of route and/or equipment assignment. 
  • Critical Mass: Ability to build at least 30 lines for efficient reserve coverage. 
  • Domicile Stability and Human Factors: Ability to keep line levels stable to reduce manpower dislocations. 
  • ALPA Input: Typically seniority considerations. 



    Now let's use this framework to evaluate potential new equipment domiciles. 

    LAX B777. The big news is the announcement of the opening of an LAX B777 domicile this summer,with an initial eight to 12 lines! In the short term, the base will fly LAX-LHR, but will exceed 30 lines with flying to Europe, Asia and Hawaii over time.

    We opened the base betting on the come that we would get the LAX-GRU route authority (to achieve schedule efficiencies) and to capitalize on an increase in system B777 hours for the summer (to maintain domicile stability across the system). Waiting later would have meant risking flying LAX-GRU very inefficiently from another base and would have resulted in a cannibalization of lines from other domiciles to staff up LAX. 

    Unfortunately, Continental instead received authority to fly IAH-GRU. A commitment from Aircraft Scheduling to keep one LAX-LHR frequency in a B777 (to maintain stable equipment assignment) clinched our decision to open LAX B777, despite the uncertainty surrounding LAX-GRU. As an aside, a second LAX-LHR B777 frequency is planned for the summer peak. 

    DEN B777. We are not considering a B777 DEN base for now, since it would result in taking a significant amount of domestic flying away from other domiciles, which is critically needed as filler to stabilize line levels year round with the churn in our route plan. For example the B777 flying from MIA to Deep South America is planned to be reduced from four flights for the winter peak down to two for the summer off-peak. The domestic flying given to Miami during the summer off-peak maintains Miami B777 domicile stability. It is also unclear whether a DEN base would result in a reduction in flight time credit. Most likely, long haul flying such as DEN-LHR/FRA would be required. 

    HNL B777. Significant B777 long-haul flying needs to be added through HNL before we evaluate whether to open a HNL B777 base. All of this must clarify by summer. Without a replacement aircraft, we will be forced to close the base by year end. 

    SEA B777. The possible conversion of SEA-NRT from B400 to B777 flying would add only eight lines. Significant other flying would need to be added before we would evaluate whether to open a SEA B777 base. SEA-NRT can be flown efficiently in a "W" from either SFO or LAX. 

    MIA A320. MIA-LIM/CCS, which will convert from B757 to A320 flying this spring, will initially be flown by JFK. While a MIA base would provide schedule efficiencies, MIA-LIM/CCS would need to be proven as stable, viable operations in an A320 before we would evaluate whether to open a MIA base. Earliest base opening would not be until early 2000. 

    SEA A320. With more A320s going long-haul replacing B300 and B727 service, SEA Airbus operations have now doubled to eight daily roundtrips this winter, which can drive 15 lines from a best flown schedule, still below the 30-line critical mass. Over time there is a possibility that we could convert all remaining B300/B727 service to A320, driving more lines. One challenge however for SEA is keeping the equipment assignment stable. Historically SEA has been a very seasonal market as widebodies replace narrowbodies for summer peak flying. In fact, Airbus operations go back down to four daily departures in April. 

    DCA U30. More than half of the 16 to 20 aircraft buildup at IAD will be high-utilization north-south flying. Initially this will be performed by a B300 operation, but could convert to U30 over time. 


    With all of the constant churn in the route plan, our short-term strategy is to maintain stable line levels across all equipment domiciles where possible by shifting flying around. This allows us to use existing manpower in the short term, minimizing pockets of trapped surpluses, as illustrated above in the case of MIA B777 flying. If there is a clear picture of where we are heading with our route plan and the resulting impact on an equipment domicile in the long term, then we will be building or reducing line levels at that location in a very orderly fashion, with the goal of avoiding taking lines from other domiciles and involuntary surpluses as much as possible.

    JFK. Another good example of our strategy to keep line levels stable short term is in Aircraft Scheduling's decision to swap the B777 flown on JFK-EZE with the B767 flown on ORD-EZE in May. To keep B777 line levels stable at JFK, we will be giving JFK the third ORD-LHR B777 flight, to be flown in a "W" with EWR-LHR. Keeping line levels stable at JFK allows us easily to reenter JFKEZE with a B777 or upgrade JFK-GRU to a B777. JFK's B767 base picks up BOS-LHR and JFK-EZE flying this spring, but loses JFK-CCS and LHRDEL, with no net increase in lines. The new JFK A320 base will be flying new JFK-CCS, MIA-CCS/LIM service this spring, with the MIA-CCS/LIM service potentially going to a new MIA A320 base in the future. JFK B747 closes in February as planned. 

    IAD. IAD B777 and B767 remain fairly stable as well. IAD B777 will lose the third IAD-LHR frequency to B400 flying (to be flown by either LAX or ORD) but will pick up a second IAD-CDG in a B777 in spring. IAD B767 loses IAD-FRA (which goes to a B400) and the second IAD-CDG but will most likely pick up a deadhead to ORD to fly the second ORD-CDG and will pick up more domestic flying. As mentioned earlier, we will be adding 16 to 20 narrowbody aircraft worth of flying this spring at IAD. In the short term we will use existing B300 and A320 crews to perform the new flying, and have B300 and A320 crews from other domiciles perform some of DCAs current east-west flying. Over time if the flying stabilizes, we would probably build up A320 and B300/U30 lines at IAD. 

    MIA. Of all domiciles, we have possibly seen the most churn at MIA. Two (GIG, SCL) of the four Deep South B777 trips (EZE, GRU, GIG, SCL) go to B767 for the sunnuer off-peak. We will keep line levels stable by backfilling with domestic fillers. MIA B767 loses ORD-EZE, MIA-LIM-SCL, and MIA-CCS, but picks up MIA-GIG/SCL this summer, which is close to a push. An A320 MIA base is possible early 2000. 

    ORD. ORD is a slot-controlled airport, so overall line levels will probably stay the same, but there may be shifting from one equipment type to another. ORD B400 will pick up either IAD-LHR or IAD-FRA in a B400 for the summer peak, with a deadhead of the entire crew from ORD to IAD. ORD B400 base will also be flying the NRT-China tags this spring, currently flown by the HNL B747 base. ORD B777 will pick up ORD-EZE this spring, but will give the third ORD-LHR B777 to JFK B777 to keep line levels stable at JFK. The company also recently studied whether to internationally qualify the entire ORD B767 base, but determined it still was not economically feasible. Expect to see more B727 flying in Business One markets as the A320 replaces the B727 on midcon markets. Also expect to see more ORD hub-andspoke B737 flying as we plan to shut DEN B737 in May. There may be an offsetting reduction, however, in B300 or A320 flying. 

    DEN. No real changes here. Possible B777 base, particularly with significant long-haul flying. While DEN has been identified as a growth city for us, plans may be put on hold temporarily, given the aircraft resource needs at IAD. B737 shuts down in May. Possible additional U30 growth. 

    SEA. No real changes here. Possible B777 and A320 domiciles. We will evaluate close-looping SEA-SFO U30 with the recent success of the LAXSFO close-looping initiative. 

    SFO. Like ORD, SFO is a capacity-limited airport, so overall line levels will probably stay the same, but there will be shifting from one equipment type to another, probably larger equipment over time. SFO B400 picks up the second SFO-NRT in June and possibly NRT-HNL flying in the spring, currently flown by SFO and HNL B747 crews. The SFO B747 base will be flying domestic wingtip replacement missions and continue to have one trip from SFO to HNL. SFO B747 is expected to be the remaining B747 base in 2000. There is a possibility for B777 flying to Japan as early as July, and a resulting upgrading of B400 service on SFO-LHR. We, are evaluating whether to consolidate the two West Coast DC-10 domiciles (SFO, LAX) into one. International B767 flying is not expected to come back, but as the B747-100s and DC-10s retire, expect to see B767-300 two-class aircraft between the West Coast and Hawaii. Also expect the B727s to start to migrate east. 

    LAX. Consistent with United's strategic plan, we have grown LAX significantly over the last three years and will continue to grow it as a Star City. We are in the process of expanding our facilities and restructuring our hub-and-spoke structure to accommodate the continued growth and to position ourselves better competitively. LAX's growth plan, however, may be put on hold temporarily with resources deployed this spring at IAD. LAX B400 picks up either a IAD-FRA or IAD-LHR trip for the summer peak, with an LAX-IAD feeder flight. B777 opens as early as May. We are evaluating whether to consolidate the two West Coast DC-10 domiciles (SFO, LAX) into one. 

    ANC. No real changes here. With three of the four aircraft undergoing Heavy Maintenance Visits (HMVS) on a staggered schedule, the operation will be a three-aircraft schedule until June, then return to the normal four-aircraft schedule. 

    HNL HNL B747 remains open until year end, when the two-class B747-100s are expected to retire and exit HNL-mainland missions. Possible B777 new equipment domicile. 


    We expect to hire anywhere from 500 to 900 pilots this year, compared to 543 last year. Continued aircraft growth, block time adds of one minute pernon-Shuttle flight, and pilot retirements are driving this rate. We anticipate that approximately 410 pilots will retire this year (this includes age 60, MD,etc.). Hiring has been moderated in order to absorb some of the trapped surplus pilots in the B400, B747 and DC-10 fleets. With growth in the B400 and surplus notices to 150 B747/DC-10 pilots over the last two to three months (most of whom volunteered for surplus), we will pretty much be manpower balanced by mid-year. 

    Expect, however, to see vacancy bids closer to the 150 level for the next six months as hours plateau from the summer to the end of the year. Vacancy bids had been averaging 250 or so in advance of the summer peak hours.