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Breaking Down the Pyramid

Richard Lung 

Director-Flight Crew Scheduling

The Pilot Schedule, December 1999

While enroute to the Miami Domicile meeting,I chatted with a Miami-based B767 Captain and learned to my dismay that United had closed the Miami domicile in early 1992, only to reopen it six months later after startup of Pan Am's Latin America route authorities. This was a highly disruptive event that whipsawed the lives of many pilots. Since some departments had knowledge of the impending Pan Am purchase in early 1992, my conclusion is that there probably wasn't much two-way communication between the strategic planning and operating groups back in the pre-ESOP days.

This example represents a classic pyramid where those on top in the Planning organizations call the shots and the operating groups carry out the orders. In our world, Aircraft Scheduling is at the top of the pyramid, Flight Crew Resources is in the middle of the pyramid, and the pilot group is at the bottom of the pyramid.  While we have managed to "get by" historically with this pyramid, we've got to change the way we work with each other to meet the challenges of our aggressive route and fleet plan. We are taking delivery of more than 200 aircraft over the next four to five years, and retiring nearly 125.  Having the right number of pilots in the right fleet, seats and domiciles at the right time is going to be a huge challenge.  So what have we been doing to meet these challenges?

Alignment with Aircraft Scheduling
Simply said, we have been working very hard to align our business processes with our two key stakeholders: Aircraft Scheduling and you, the pilot group. There is now excellent two-way  communication between Flight Crew Resources and Aircraft Scheduling.  There are no surprises.  When there are major route planning decisions, we get together and jointly make decisions that consider not only revenue impact but also the impact to the Flight Operations organization and the pilot group.  While we often get "out-revenued" on many decisions, on occasion, we have been able to influence Aircraft Scheduling decisions, or at least reach commitments to stabilize route or equipment assignments so that we can go forward with allocation of flying decisions.  Some notable examples of this include: a commitment from Aircraft Scheduling to keep LAX-LHR in a B777 allowing us to open a LAX B777 base in January 1999, to ensure available crews if we had gotten the LAX-GRU route authority; an assurance that a B400 will be on the HNL-NRT route for the foreseeable future allowing us to transition the HNL-NRT B747 base to a HNL-NRT B400 base in February 2000; and acknowledgement that there will be limited B777 entries into NRT in the next couple of years, driving a real need for a SEA-NRT B777 base opening in November 1999.

Once decisions are jointly agreed to, we have enough lead time to execute the decisions, minimize disruption to the pilot group, and communicate these decisions to the System Schedule Committee and to you.

Flying Updates
With respect to breaking down the bottom tier of the pyramid, here are some of the latest flying updates since the last article.  HNL B400 will officially open on Jan. 31, with flying from HNL-SFO starting Feb. 8. We were successful in working with Aircraft Scheduling to add a B400 temporarily from HNL to the West Coast in February to allow us to build up HNL in an orderly manner and to meet some ALPA objectives.

Two new B400 missions are expected to be flown out of SFO by summer 2000, SFO-PEK and SFO-LHR.  This is in addition to the SFO-SHA route and another SFO-Asian route that we had already been planning.  This brings the total of new B400 SFO missions to four by next summer (assuming all remaining regulatory hurdles are met), with each route accounting for roughly 20 Captain and 40-55 First Officer B400 positions.  To accomplish this aggressive plan, we are going to pull down two to three narrowbodies' worth of domestic flying from the February to May off-peak flying to send upgrading crews to B400 training.  A good vacation deferral response to date has also contributed to our ability to add this new flying. Thanks again for your support and your help in meeting our aggressive flying plans!