How CommutAir Plans To Double in 18 Months

A Fast 5 interview with Lon Ziegler, CommutAir VP maintenance, who talks about how the United Express operator, which logs about 100 flights per day, plans to rapidly expand.

CommutAir announced changes to its base maintenance organization. What are the changes, and what’s driving it?

We’re adding more infrastructure in preparation for growth. The airline will double in the next 18 months. We will be adding 40 Embraer ERJ 145XR jets by the end of 2018. Today we operate 37 aircraft, including Bombardier Dash 8 Q200s, Q300s and Embraer ERJ 145 XRs—all flying in the United livery.

To support this, we’re adding two layers within our maintenance organization. The base maintenance supervisors currently don’t have crew leaders under them, and we’re adding technical leaders to bring more experienced ERJ 145 talent to the organization.

Are these positions across bases? How much of a challenge is it to hire them?

The positions are across the organization. We have bases at Newark (New Jersey), Washington Dulles and Albany (New York), as well as maintenance control and some other functions in Cleveland, Ohio. Because of the fleet growth that we will have, this creates opportunities for our current staff and allows us to go out to the market and find additional people.

Previously, we didn’t have as well-defined career paths, but now it’s much more of a clear progression and there’s room for advancement.

We didn’t have crew leaders before, which provides a first level of supervision experience. After gaining experience in that role, they could become a technical leader, which is more of a technical support position looking at expertise for training and troubleshooting. The next step would be moving up to a maintenance supervisor, who would run the shift. The next progressive step would be base manager. Previously, they wouldn’t have had all of these opportunities because the positions weren’t layered in.

We’ll have growth across the complete enterprise, so I expect more opportunities for maintenance control, avionics technicians, records department, maintenance planning and engineering, as well.

How much of a challenge is it to recruit?

It’s been a competitive market, but as a growing company with a solid future with United, there is a lot to offer. Not only are there good opportunities to get in here, but there are also future advancement opportunities. In the regional market, I think we’re very competitive with the rates were paying. We had a period of extreme hiring from the majors, but that seems to be cooling off now, which gives us a competitive edge compared to other operators based on our growth plans.

Do new A&Ps have the experience you need? If not, what’s usually lacking and what training does CommutAir provide?

We do find the experience we need, or we build upon it when we hire through our training department. We have aircraft familiarization courses and mentoring through on-the-job training—and we use some FlightSafety International training for mechanics, as well.

What maintenance does CommutAir perform in-house, and what does it outsource?

We have done some C check on the Dash 8s, but we’re currently outsourcing that and are looking at what we want to do with the EMB 145s. We perform all A checks and some components in-house. On the Dash 8 program, we do leading-edge boots and a number of components in-house. We’re looking at options for C checks. As we come up on C checks for the EMB 145s, we’re looking at which direction to go. We’ll make that decision this year because we’ll have requirements by year-end.

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