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In Uncertain Times,
It Pays to Communicate

The Pilot Schedule, November 1998

by Richard Lung, Director-Flight Crew Resources
Since my last article, the economic situation around the world has become much more uncertain. Some of you may be asking: Are we heading into a recession? Are we going to ground aircraft? Are we going to stop hiring? It can be destructive to have rumors like this around without addressing them. I cannot be a soothsayer and predict for you what will happen over the next two years. But I have pledged to keep you as informed as possible. My hope is that this will lower the anxiety level and help you better plan your next move. 

In the same way you need to know, Flight Crew Resources also needs timely information from our Marketing and Planning departments, so we can make the best and most timely decisions. In fact, the director of Route and Fleet Planning is now a regular participant in our System Schedule Committee (SSC) meeting. He spends the first half hour of the meeting discussing route and fleet actions that the company is contemplating and answers questions from SSC members. These company plans are then published in the SSC minutes, and I understand they have been mentioned in some ALPA code-a-phone messages. Some information is withheld from publication due to competitive reasons, although I'm sure the SSC members will agree that this is rare. 

Here is what came out of the last meeting. We are still advertising more than 250 vacancy bids for May 1999. These are limited to narrowbody equipment as we continue to take 10 firm Airbus aircraft in 1999 and provision for on-time reliability initiatives. We will add extra layover time to STAR departures in January and will consider adding one minute of additional block time per departure on all non-Shuttle flights starting in June. Both of these increase the manpower need. 

On the other hand, we have withheld widebody vacancy bids for now, with the expectation that many openings would be filled with roughly 150 pilots surplussed over the next two months from the planned retirement of B747 and DC10 aircraft. At this time, the company is still sticking to its aircraft retirement and delivery plans. Many of the 150 surplussed pilots would likely hold a widebody seat. 

The surpluses had been expected but were delayed pending resolution of whether to keep the Honolulu B747 domicile open. With continued weakness in Asia and the delivery of eight firm B747-400s for next year, the company had no identifiable expansion missions for the B747-400s. Instead, it decided to deploy the B747-400s on current existing Pacific B747 missions, which include HNL/SFO to NRT and some NRT tag flying. This then frees the B747s to perform hub-to-hub and wingtip flying domestically, which still remains strong. It appears that the Honolulu domicile will continue to exist until year-end 1999, at which point the company and ALPA will evaluate whether to open a different equipment domicile in Honolulu. 

In summary, expect to see continued vacancy bids in the narrowbodies, but some caution in the widebodies. In fact, the redeployment of the B747 from Pacific to domestic flying has reduced hours in both the B400 and B747 fleets as we continue to see weakness in the Pacific but strength domestically. Based on what we know so far, we are still planning to hire more than 500 new pilots next year. But because of the fluid situation, things can change quickly. For example, American Airlines just announced plans to cut its capacity growth next year by one-third. My goal, however, is to continue to keep you as informed as possible if plans change. 

Check the next Pilot Schedule for the article I promised you in August about my OMC experiences on a DC10 freighter and a B767 mission.