Saturday, July 11, 2015

United Airlines shifts widebody flights

United Airlines Boeing 787-8 "Dreamliner" (34825/55) N45905 climbs from Rwy 25R at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX/KLAX) on January 6, 2014.
(Photo by Michael Carter)

United Airlines is shifting some wide-body flights among its hubs, as it seeks to ensure more departures are flown by local pilots and tries to more closely align aircraft size with demand.
Since United merged with Continental Airlines, it has been limited by the fact that it essentially has two different pilot groups, an issue that has persisted even after the pilots ratified a new joint contract.

But that it slowly going away, and in April, the airline’s pilots finally started co-bidding on an important fleet type, the Boeing 777.

Schedules are now more efficient, allowing the airline to do away with some arduous pilot trips, like a 10-day journey from Chicago to Asia, as well as some “out-of-base” flying from Houston and Newark. That is allowing the airline more flexibility for its schedules.

United told pilots in a recent note that it is making it a priority to “… get to a point where our staffing levels are as balanced as possible across the system.”

In the note, United said it is removing most 777s from the Houston hub, replacing them mainly with Boeing 787s. In the short term, United will use the 777 only from Houston to Honolulu, though that might change in the future.

This winter, the carrier is also expecting slight 777 growth in Chicago, with United planning to use the aircraft to Munich, Beijing and on a second flight to Frankfurt. The airline also plans a slight increase in 777 flying from Newark to London and from Washington Dulles to Sao Paulo, Brazil.

On the 787, United said crews from the airline’s legacy United side should soon be able to bid the aircraft. Due to a pilot-contract issue, former United pilots are not permitted to bid the aircraft until the 25th 787 is delivered. United told pilots that should happen this December, and predicted United will have 30 787s by July 2016.

United has already announced a bunch of new 787 flights from Houston, including Frankfurt, Buenos Aires, Amsterdam, Rio de Janeiro and Tokyo.

United told pilots it has no plans to open 787 bases other than in Houston, San Francisco and Los Angeles. United has said that “787 staffing will continue to be spread across the three existing bases, in order to hedge where network planning may locate the airplane in the future.”

Going forward, United plans to take all 10 of its Boeing 777-300ERs in 2017. The airline was short with details, only saying the first aircraft likely will arrive in January. United told pilots it has made no decisions on where the aircraft will fly.

While the 777-300ERs are not technically a replacement for the Boeing 747s, they will arrive as United is phasing out 747s. United told pilots it will retire three 747s between July 2015 and July 2016. As a result, Chicago O’Hare (ORD) will see some 747 reductions this winter, with flights only to Shanghai and Tokyo.

“Looking into next year, we anticipate the departures on the 747 out of ORD to continue to decrease due to aircraft retirements,” United told pilots. It did not say what destinations might be cut.

On narrowbodies, United told pilots it is expecting to add about 13 incremental 737s between now and summer 2016. Several 737s bases will see “modest growth,” including Los Angeles and Chicago, while Houston will shrink. As for the Airbus A320, United still plans to concentrate that flying in only four bases: Chicago, Houston, Denver and San Francisco.

United said it plans to hire “roughly 1,600 pilots over the next 18 months, spread across our 737 and 320 fleets.” The airline will need to do a “significant portion” of training off-site.

(Brian Sumers - ATWOnline News)

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