United Airlines president Scott Kirby hopes to convince its pilots to allow for more large regional jets in its fleet, as the carrier focuses on increasing connectivity over its hubs.
“I will hope, over time, to convince all the pilots that more large regional jets is actually in all of our best interests,” he told employees at a recent event in Cleveland.
The scope clause in United’s contract with the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA) limits it to 255 large regional aircraft, defined as ones with up to 76 seats and a maximum take-off weight (MTOW) of 39,010kg (86,000lb), and a cap of 450 regional aircraft when the contract becomes amendable in January 2019.
The Chicago-based carrier had 494 regional aircraft, including 235 large regional jets and 238 jets with up to 50 seats, in its feeder fleet at the end of 2016, its latest fleet plan shows.
Kirby says he “understands” ALPA’s push back against more large regional jets, citing United’s history of replacing mainline with regional flying.
“I hope by doing the right thing and flying mainline aircraft back where they should be flying… that we can convince ALPA that it’s in their best interest,” he says.
United is in the process of shifting regional aircraft off of routes that Kirby calls “mainline trunk routes”, for example flights to Atlanta, Dallas/Fort Worth and Washington National, and instead using them to expand the network. The airline will begin new service to Champaign/Urbana (Illinois), Columbia (Missouri), Rochester (Minnesota) and Santa Rosa (California) in June as part of this shift. The network changes are part of an effort to increase connectivity at United’s hubs, thus improving revenues and profitability.
“When you start growing a hub, everything gets stronger,” says Kirby.
The carrier plans to grow domestic capacity by 3.5% to 4.5% in 2017, after a 3.1% increase last year.
United’s pilots contract is the next to become amendable at the three US mainline carriers. This gives it the opportunity to address the scope clause limits on seats and MTOW that could allow for the introduction of the next generation of regional jets, including the Embraer 175-E2 and Mitsubishi MRJ90, into regional fleets.
Both the E175-E2 and MRJ90 are slightly larger and weigh more than the current 76-seat and 39,010kg limits, which are also in place at American Airlines and Delta Air Lines.
The pilots contract at American becomes amendable at the end of 2020 and at Delta in December 2019.