Fast 5: United Airlines Maintenance Seeing Big Impact

Don Wright, United VP maintenance operations, spoke with Lee Ann Shay in Chicago about how tech ops streamlined its process and structure, and is "firing on all cylinders now."

One of the five pillars United Airlines Tech Ops is focusing on is process simplification for line and base maintenance. How is that process going and what results has it yielded so far?

The key areas for us are that we have a single joint collective bargaining agreement with our technicians now, so we are able to blend the team and work as a team. It was a big deal not being able to do that. For us, this is an enormous benefit. The second part is that we’ve moved all of the aircraft onto one logbook platform within Sceptre. By doing that, we’ve simplified the process—we have one logbook and one team going forward—that and having the parts harmonized--moving all of our parts under one inventory management system. Those are the three of the five pillars that really make a big difference for us. We’ve gone through a lot over the last few years and seeing it all come together at the end of 2016—we’re really firing on all cylinders now.

I understand the last two pieces of the Tech Ops integration include moving Sceptre aircraft to the electronic logbook this quarter. Is that on track?

We’ve moved all of our aircraft onto Sceptre (which Continental used before the merger)—and all of the aircraft including the ones previously under AMIS (which United used before merger), so they’re all in electronic logbook with the exception of the Boeing 787 fleet. We’re waiting for a software update before we can implement it on the 787 fleet. We hope to have that complete in the early 3rd or late 2nd quarter. Having a single platform is a huge benefit.

What are your big fleet projects or base maintenance inputs this year?

We’ve put a lot of emphasis on fleet health and fleet reliability, particularly on some of the older fleets, such as the 767-300s. We’re seeing good success in what we’re doing but it’s a huge effort—from both a line and base process. We’ve got a big push to get everything in place before summer, effectively June 1. We’re pretty close on all of our big projects. Another big issue is the Polaris reconfiguration for our widebody fleet. That is underway and should be finished around 2019.  As the aircraft go through heavy checks, we do the installation. We have some stand-alone lines, as well.

How are you preparing for the Boeing 737 MAX and 787-10?

Both aircraft are very important deliveries for us and we’re treating them as service-ready projects, even though we are very familiar with the 737 and 787 to ensure we have the right training, tooling and equipment. Even though the aircraft are very similar in several ways, the MAX is probably more different to the 737 than the 787-10 is to the -9, so we’re treating them as brand new fleets and making sure they get the attention from us that they deserve to be successful.

With the integration and efficiencies you have gained, are you reducing the amount of spares and initial provisioning required before entry into service?

We’re not reducing them at all. As we expand our footprint, we want to have the flexibility to change aircraft type based on the market at the time. We’re expanding our inventory to provide that flexibility and support the operation—including the route plan and the marketing plan--and ultimately get passengers to their destinations on time with their bags.

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