As United makes painful adjustments to its flight operations in light of prolonged depressed demand, pilots across the network will feel pain.
First Step: United Airlines Will Close Many Pilot Bases
Earlier today, I wrote about how United is already forecasting it will have to lay off at least 30% of pilots this autumn, once CARES Act funding is depleted. But we also learned how United will assign aircraft in the months ahead.
787: The New “Workhorse” Of United International Operations
The 787 will become United’s “workhorse” for the “foreseeable” future. But LAX, United’s most competitive hub, will be passed over. That’s particularly ironic because all United longhaul flights at LAX prior to COVID-19 were operated by 787s. Here’s what Untied told pilots:
This fleet will be the workhorse of our international operation for the foreseeable future. Unfortunately, the aircraft will not be flying out of LAX for some time, possibly over a year.
In total, 80 captains and 179 first officers based at LAX will face re-assignment or re-training on a new aircraft type. Denver, Chicago, Newark, Houston, San Francisco, and Washington will also see partial displacements.
I’ll have more commentary on LAX later today in a dedicated post.
777: Newark + San Francisco Only
According to United, the 777 domiciles in Chicago, Houston, and Washington will close:
777 flying will be suppressed for the foreseeable future, and will be consolidated at EWR and SFO. 777 domiciles at DCA and IAH are expected to return at some time in the future.
DCA does not mean Washington National Airport, but Washington, DC (including Washington Dulles). The Washington closure includes 101 captains and 175 first officers. The Houston closure includes 94 captains and 169 first officers. Finally, the Chicago closure includes 50 captains and 84 first officers. Cutbacks will also take place in Newark and San Francisco.
757 + 767 (756): Only 767-300 Will Operate
United will stop operating all 757s and 767-400 and only operate a sub-fleet of 767-300s. Pilot staffing will be consolidated to Chicago, Houston, and Newark. Once again, Washington pilots lose out big. Los Angeles, Denver, and San Francisco will also face 757 + 767 base closures. That includes 101 captains and 159 first officers in Washington, 46 captains and 44 first officers in Denver, 85 captains and 81 first officers in Los Angeles, and 105 captains plus 94 first officers in San Francisco.
The 767-300 is the only sub-fleet that is forecasted to fly over the foreseeable future. Pilot staffing will be consolidated at EWR, IAH and ORD.
The grounding of 757s, including the 757-200 subfleet used on many premium transcontinental and East Coast – Europe flights may transform United’s reach for years to come, even once demand recovers.
737 + Airbus: Pared Back, But Not Pulled Back
No 737 or Airbus bases will be closed, though many junior pilots will find themselves without an assignment.
Not only is this devastating news for United pilots, but also devastating news for customers, since it shows how many cuts are in store. Demand will not be quick. While United has not officially announced it will retire its 757-200/300 or 767-400 fleet, the longer they are parked, the harder it will be to resume flying them, as pilots will require fresh training and certification.
The news is sobering. While American and Delta have been somewhat optimistic, United (i.e. incoming CEO Scott Kirby) has taken a more blunt approach. Unless this is all a clever plot to convince Congress to extend funding, thousands of pilots will soon find themselves in a very painful position.
image: Bill Abbott / CC 2.0