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United Tech Ops Announces PW4000 Overhaul Partnership

United Technical Operations is pleased to announce it is partnering with Fortress Transportation and Infrastructure Investors LLC (FTAI) Aviation for PW4000-94" overhauls. FTAI Aviation purchased surplus engines from United and chose United’s MRO Services for the program. This partnership will foster growth for our Engine MRO and build a platform for success throughout the coming years. United has already inducted the first three engines into its San Francisco facility.

FTAI Aviation logo

"FTAI Aviation is a wonderful partner and customer for us to build our MRO brand as we ramp up our commercial third-party business." – Mark Eldred, VP, Base Maintenance

"United Technical Operations was a great choice for our immediate PW4000 maintenance needs, and we will be looking to them for future work as well." – Joe Adams, CEO, FTAI

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CLE three-peats!

Every year, aircraft maintenance technicians from around the world are invited to compete in a two-day tournament against the best of the best and, until now, no team of technicians had ever achieved the goal that eludes even the New England Patriots – the “three-peat.”

Our CLE technicians are getting used to this

When it comes to maintenance, the entire industry now knows that Cleveland rocks. The United CLE Line Maintenance technicians, who trained in T-shirts with a target on the back, were crowned the champions of the Aerospace Maintenance Competition in Atlanta, posting the best scores of more than 80 teams to retain the William O’Brien trophy.

In many ways we dominated the 2019 AMC, held each year as part of the MRO Americas conference. United entered four teams again this year, and the Base Maintenance team of technicians from the Houston and San Francisco Base Maintenance Centers took third place in the MRO (maintenance, repair and overhaul) division. The vaunted Chix Fix team and the first-time team fielded by ORD Line Maintenance also won prizes in individual events.

“You have all made us very proud at United in so many ways,” Maintenance Operations VP Don Wright told the assembled teams at a celebration dinner following the awards ceremony on April 12. “You’re the best ambassadors not only for United as a great place to work, but also the professionalism and skill that you’ve displayed over this past week shows the industry the extraordinary talent that we have at United.”

“Not everybody can appreciate how hard it is to win any one event,” Base Maintenance VP Mark Eldred noted. (The Base team took five, most of any team.) “All of our teams medaled, which is amazing, and throughout this entire conference I kept hearing from people who were very impressed with all the team members they encountered.”

Former United technician and NTSB member John Goglia, recognized as the godfather of the AMC, closed the awards ceremony by thanking United and the other participants who are taking steps to recruit more women technicians and called our Chix Fix pioneers in the effort. United recruitment employees staffed a table adjacent to the AMC competition area and noted a steady stream of would-be applicants coming by who related that they were drawn to United by watching and talking to not only the Chix Fix but all of the United teams who demonstrated unrivaled professionalism and collegiality.

“In more than 30 years at United, I have to say this is not only the most fun thing I’ve ever done, it may be the most worthwhile, too,” said ORD Aircraft Inspector Polly Delaney, a two-year veteran of Chix Fix. “We’ve not only got the undisputed best team in the industry in CLE, but with all our AMC teams, and the big presence we have at the MRO Americas conference, we’re really sending a positive message about Tech Ops and about United.”

All four of our teams at Atlanta's Centennial Olympic Park
Base team in a troubleshooting event
The Chix Fix in an APU event
CLE team members in action
ORD team members
ORD team members in a window sealant event
We fielded questions from a lot of prospective applicants at the AMC
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Industry takes notice of our mobility solution

Technical Operations and Digital Technology employees who played critical roles in the more than two-year effort to develop and deploy the United Tech mobile app accepted well-deserved acclaim from industry peers March 14 at the Aviation Week Network’s Laureate Awards ceremony in Washington, D.C.

Some of our celebrants at the Laureate Awards dinner

Our program to put more than 6,000 iPads into the hands of Line Maintenance technicians and inspectors won the Commercial Aviation/MRO (maintenance, repair and overhaul) award and received a loud ovation when announced at the awards dinner.

Tech Ops and Digital Technology officers Kris Bauer, Jason Birnbaum, Kurt Carpenter and Don Wright joined nearly 20 representatives of their departments who have been integral to the success of the project. Many of them have been involved since the beginning on projects such as the electronic log book.

Don, who got this program started in Line Maintenance in earnest more than two years ago, thanked some of the “champions” who initially came together from hubs and stations in early 2017 with long wish lists of things they wanted the new technology to do for them.

“Every single one of us would have said you were crazy if you said two years ago we could have anywhere near this kind of impact by now with United Tech,” said SFO Lead Line Technician Mansur Zia, one of the Tech Ops Mobility champions who is credited with making the program such a success through his advocacy for change.

“Without the partnership between our groups, and the Tech Ops champions being integrated with the Digital Tech team, I doubt that this would have been possible,” said Applications Development Director Helon Hammond.

Helon and Tech Ops Planning and Strategy VP Kurt Carpenter accepted the trophy, which may now go on tour to the stations where iPads are being used every day. Kurt, who joined United to lead this program from the business side in mid-2017, said Tech Ops Mobility was as good an example of interdepartmental collaboration as he has ever seen in his many years of airline experience.

“They have certainly all earned this recognition,” Kurt said.

L-R Don Wright, Kurt Carpenter, Kris Bauer
Tech Ops Planning and Strategy VP Kurt Carpenter, far left, and Digital Technology Applications Director Helon Hammond, second from left, accepted the Laureate Award on behalf of the entire United Tech team
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Ms. Fix-It

Yolanda Gong had been awaiting this challenge all day. As fellow competitors looked on, she took a pipette and carefully removed lubricant from a jet engine, then injected it into a handheld machine to analyze its viscosity, a process that aircraft maintenance technicians use to gauge an engine’s health. She moved quickly with a steady hand and steely confidence, and if you watched her closely, you would have caught a glimpse of who she was, back in a laboratory in another life, when she was living someone else’s dream.

Yolanda Gong working along side Katrina Oyer, another technician and Chix Fix teammate, in the flight deck.

Each participant was allotted 15 minutes, which was 11 minutes and 44 seconds longer than Yolanda needed. It was the fastest time recorded at last spring’s Aerospace Maintenance Competition – which draws civilian, military and student technicians from all over the country, all vying for coveted bragging rights – where she captained the team from West Los Angeles College. The oil analysis was just one event in which she and her teammates competed over the course of three days, during which Yolanda impressed a lot of people, including the members of our all-female “Chix Fix” team, who were also there.

“When I saw her on stage receiving awards, I knew Yolanda would make a good addition to the United team, not to mention a strong competitor for Chix Fix,” said SFO Airframe Overhaul and Repair Managing Director Bonnie Turner. “Her professionalism and talent caught my attention that day, and I’ve been thrilled to have her as a technician.”

In September, after earning her airframe and powerplant license, Yolanda was hired at the San Francisco Maintenance Base as an Aircraft Interior Repair Tech. To her, meeting Bonnie and the women of Chix Fix was serendipity; a chance encounter that led to a life-changing opportunity. But that’s not entirely true. She might have been in the right place at the right time, but make no mistake – Yolanda’s success is a byproduct of effort and ability. She’s doing what she was meant to do, though it took her traveling an unconventional path to get to this place of self-realization.

Growing up, Yolanda’s mother and father steered her toward a more genteel career. In their minds, she would become a doctor or a lawyer. In other words, something “suitable for a woman,” a notion that rankled their mechanically-inclined daughter. In the end, Yolanda settled on medicine for many of the same reasons she would eventually move into aircraft maintenance.

“I was interested in how the body works,” she said. “I like systems and puzzles, looking at causes and effects.”

Yolanda completed her pre-med studies at the University of California, Los Angeles, but when it came time to take the MCAT and apply to medical school, she found herself at a crossroads. It was then that she realized her own goals were more important than the ones someone else had set for her, and she certainly wasn’t going to let something like expectations based on gender stand in her way. After some soul searching, Yolanda enrolled in West Los Angeles College’s aviation technology program, where she was one of only four women in a class of around 30 students.

“I’ve always wanted to know how to use tools and do things for myself,” said Yolanda. “And I never paid attention when someone told me, ‘You can’t do that.’ I’ve always said, ‘Well, let me try.’”

Over the past few months since graduating, Yolanda has been a rising star at United. She’s even set to return to the Aerospace Maintenance Competition in April, this time as part of team Chix Fix, where she and her colleagues plan to show what they can do.

“It’s likely there will be a shortage of technicians soon,” she said, “so I want to make sure women know opportunities are here for them. Don’t let anyone tell you what you can or can’t love. The only thing stopping you from doing what you want is your belief in yourself. It’s incredibly freeing when you stop caring what other people think and just do it.”

In honor of Women’s History Month, we are profiling women who are making an impact here at United. Look for more stories like this one throughout March.

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New LAX hangar will bring teams together

Many United employees thought this day might never come – after years of hoping for a world-class facility to replace our aging maintenance complex on the east side of the LAX airfield, we broke ground February 28 for a brand-new Technical Operations Center.

LAX Avionics Technician-Line John Woodruff, United President of California Janet Lamkin, EVP and Chief Operations Officer Greg Hart, Los Angeles World Airports Commissioner Gabriel Eshaghian, LAX Managing Director of Hub Operations Lori Augustine, LAX Line Maintenance Managing Director Fabio Maietta, LAX Sr. Staff Representative-Environmental Affairs Monica Lu

The complex will feature a new hangar with room for two widebodies at a time or six narrowbodies plus parts stores and shops, including an engine buildup shop. There will be a connected ground service equipment and facilities building, meaning that for the first time since 2010, the whole Tech Ops team will be under the same roof.

EVP and Chief Operations Officer Greg Hart looked around at the crowd of employees, airport representatives and guests who gathered for the ceremonial ground-breaking and noted how many Tech Ops colleagues at LAX were sons and daughters of United employees who had lived through numerous false starts in the past.

“I know that at United, we’re known for using things to their full extent as much as we can, but with this, we may have taken it too far,” Greg said to laughter. “For so long, people here have been asking, ‘Is this ever going to happen?’ I’m here to tell you today – this is going to happen.”

The event was held adjacent to the 1940s-vintage east side buildings the new complex will replace. A brand-new 787-10, perched on the other side of the stage, was the appropriate backdrop, since while the LAX Tech Ops team can handle every aircraft in our fleet, they specialize in servicing our newest fleet.

LAX Airport Operations Managing Director Lori Augustine noted how, thanks in large part to Tech Ops’ performance, the hub consistently beats the competition in the race to be No. 1 among carriers at the very competitive hub.

“This will be a state-of-the-art facility for a state-of-the-art operation,” Lori said. Combined with the recent renovation of Terminal 7 and the United Club, and the opening of the Polaris Lounge, she added that “We’re investing nearly $1 billion in Los Angeles. We’re here to stay,” she said to cheers.

LAX Avionics Technician-Line John Woodruff, one of the frontline employees who joined the executives for the symbolic groundbreaking photo opportunity, said like many of his colleagues, he looked forward to working in the new complex after it opens in 2020.

“We’ve been hearing about this, and hoping for it, for years and years,” John said. “Now that it’s actually going to happen, it’s going to be amazing what we can do in a world-class facility where we’ll be all together and so much closer to the terminal.”

LAX Line Maintenance Managing Director Fabio Maietta said in addition to vastly reducing aircraft movements and the related back-and-forth of people and parts, having the whole Tech Ops LAX family in one place will be a major boost for the whole operation.

“Just what it will do for our ability to communicate and respond more quickly to operational needs is something that cannot be underestimated,” Fabio noted. “I’m proud of how well we’ve come together even though we’re in two locations more than a mile apart, and know when we’re together, we’ll be able to provide even better customer service.”

“This new Technical Operations Center reiterates United’s commitment to Los Angeles and all of California,” said our President of California, Janet Lamkin. Corporate Real Estate and Environmental Affairs VP Gavin Molloy was also on hand to thank his team, particularly Senior Project Manager Armando Hernandez, for getting the project to this stage. Demolition on the old east buildings is expected to start this April.

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An insourcing success story at the S.F. Base

Congratulations to the team in Shop 274, part of the Component Overhaul and Repair department at the San Francisco Maintenance Center, which overhauled its 100th Boeing 737 engine inlet since insourcing the work three years ago.

Left to right are Components Engineer Ricardo Rodriguez, Sheet Metal Technician Dan Sutter, Sheet Metal Technician Martin Dergan and Composite Technician John Cicero

During the early stages of our Base Maintenance Transformation, in January 2016, the team was tasked with developing an overhaul program to enable us to bring the work in house. Technicians Dan Sutter, Bill Kumpu (now retired) and Martin Dergan got to work on this with the help of Components Engineer Ricardo Rodriguez.

Martin recalled, “The first inlet we received was one that had been deemed BER, or Beyond Economical Repair.” But with the help of Technician John Cicero in Composite Shop 273, he was able to develop a method of “reskinning” the acoustic panels and saved the inlet from the scrap heap. That saved United the cost of a replacement inlet and showed that the shop could overhaul the inlets to serviceable condition economically.

“Since that time, we have overhauled 99 other inlets,” Martin said. “We have run this program with a lower average cost compared to our previous vendor’s and have achieved an industry-leading turnaround time of 11 days.”

“Base Transformation was a challenging time for the Components shops,” recalled Component Overhaul and Repair Managing Director Bill Fulton. “We were exiting non-core work, relocating people between departments and faced a lot of uncertainty. But we knew we would be successful insourcing the 737 inlet work.”

In addition to the technicians and engineers in the shop, Bill said the effort included the Base Maintenance Operations team, Vendor Management, Procurement and other groups. In the end, Bill said, “The shop technicians’ innovativeness and tenacity proved that we can be a top-tier supplier to United Airlines. They made this happen using their skills and heart.”

Component Overhaul and Repair is looking into the possibility of taking in third-party 737 inlet work and developing a program for the inlets on the Rolls-Royce RB211 engines found on our Boeing 757s.

In addition to the 737 inlets, we have insourced many other components since 2016, including avionics, thrust reversers, inlet cowls and flight controls, to name a few.

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TPA hangar cleared for takeoff

The TPA (Tampa, Florida) Airport Board of Directors on February 14 overwhelmingly approved United’s ground lease for a new Technical Operations hangar, which will have room for two Boeing 737 MAX aircraft plus adjacent ramp space. Work is expected to begin this June, with the hangar fully operational by mid-2020. It will be erected on a 9.5-acre parcel of land to the east of the terminal.

TPA Line Maintenance Senior Manager Dan Sonego said all work at TPA is now done at the gates, so having a dedicated, state-of-the-art hangar will greatly enhance our maintenance capabilities at the station. The new facility will also offer improved safety systems, break rooms, locker facilities and storerooms, he said.

Corporate Real Estate and Environmental Affairs VP Gavin Molloy thanked his team for their work that led to us clearing this final hurdle before work can begin, particularly Airport Affairs Regional Manager Gregory Kozak for negotiating the terms of the lease agreement.

“Over the past two years, moving some scheduled maintenance checks to stations such as TPA has helped contribute to Tech Ops’ improved reliability,” said Tech Ops SVP Kris Bauer. “A number of other significant infrastructure investments are in the works.”

Tech Ops plans to break ground later this month on a new hangar at LAX, and a massive hangar that is the centerpiece of the new United Tech Ops Center in IAH is set to open before the end of this year. We also have hangar construction or renewal projects taking place at ORD and PDX (Portland, Oregon).

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United Tech wins Laureate Award

As Aviation Week & Space Technology announced, “United developed a mobile app that connects its 6,000 line mechanics with everything they need to diagnose issues and get out-of-service aircraft flying again—all without touching a paper manual or a desktop computer.”

United’s Tech Ops modernization effort and its most well-known component, the Tech Ops Mobility program, brought home Aviation Week Network’s coveted Laureate Award in the Commercial Aviation/MRO category.

“This award is a testament to the dedication and teamwork of so many people in Tech Ops, in Digital Technology and other departments to bring us to this stage,” said Tech Ops SVP Kris Bauer. “We are leading the industry in this area, and it’s gratifying to be recognized with such a prestigious award.”

The majority of technicians and inspectors embraced Tech Ops Mobility quickly, largely because they were the primary designers, Maintenance Operations VP Don Wright noted. “The apps and user interfaces were developed by and specifically for the front-line teams using the tools in the field,” Don said.

Kris also pointed out that while we have deployed iPads across Line Maintenance, the program is continually evolving, with improvements based directly on user feedback, and we are in the early stages of expanding mobility into other areas, such as parts of Base Maintenance. We are also working on a wide range of other modernization projects that will improve user experiences and interfaces in virtually every corner of Tech Ops.

“In many ways, our digital transformation is just beginning,” Kris said. “This is a major investment in the future of Tech Ops and how we can contribute to United’s success.”

The winners of the 62nd annual Laureate Awards will be honored on March 14, 2019, at the National Building Museum in Washington, D.C. At that time a Grand Laureate in each of the four categories will be named from among the winners, so United is eligible for that top prize in the Commercial Aviation category.

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S.F. Maintenance Center looking great at 70

Thousands of our friends and relatives partied for five solid hours on the ramp, in the hangars and in the shops Sunday, October 7, as the San Francisco Maintenance Center celebrated its 70th anniversary during the 13th annual Family Day. The event gives visitors a rare glimpse at what our employees get to see – and do – every day.

Alcatraz Island is one of many scenic backdrops for our Boeing 777-300 in the San Francisco Fleet Week Air Show

For our visitors, there were awe-inspiring sights at nearly every turn. With all the attractions competing for their time, from plane pulls to ziplines to paper airplane contests to checking out the Patriots Jet Team and vintage cars, many visitors chose instead to wait in line for an hour or more just to walk through a Boeing 787 and take selfies in the cockpit.

They also enjoyed close-up looks at an unsheathed GE90 jet engine and various landing gear sets, and they crowded around a Boeing 737 to catch three showings of something most people never, ever see close-up – the landing gear lowering and retracting into the fuselage again.

Out on the ramp, everyone stopped to watch as our Boeing 777-300 lifted off from SFO and climbed directly overhead on its way to the San Francisco Fleet Week Air Show and did so again when the Patriots departed in formation for their segment of the show.

Our commitment to safety was evident, as was our core4 standard of caring. In every corner of the huge base that was open to visitors, our employees were proudly showing what we do to their kids and friends and neighbors and in-laws; performing in the bands that entertained the crowd; showing that an all-women team of technicians, the Chix Fix, has what it takes to compete on an international level; and getting others involved in the community and volunteer activities that make us exemplary corporate citizens. United We Care and our Special Olympics partners were well-represented, the latter with a group of a dozen athletes.

President Scott Kirby told the crowd during the opening ceremonies, “Here in San Francisco, this is a crown jewel for United Airlines and something we take seriously. I want to thank you all for what you’re doing for United and for what you’re doing to make an already vibrant community even stronger.”

Of course, Family Day – a massive undertaking – would not exist without thousands of hours put in by volunteers, who were publicly recognized for their efforts by Base Maintenance Vice President Mark Eldred in his opening ceremony remarks and throughout the day as he walked the event and thanked people personally for their roles.

The volunteer corps expanded way beyond Tech Ops and the base support organizations – Airport Operations, Flight Operations and Inflight Operations all sent large cadres of helpers, many of whom staffed the aircraft we had open for cabin and cockpit tours. If that weren’t enough, the 777 BBQ team came in from Houston.

As for dependability and efficiency, the base has been focused since its founding in 1948 on keeping United on time, safe and fully compliant with the highest standards. And the Maintenance Center and Tech Ops as a whole are taking huge strides toward becoming more efficient, not only servicing United’s mainline fleet but also competing as a global provider of MRO (maintenance, repair and overhaul) services.

“I am incredibly proud of all we have accomplished at this base over seven decades, and I think our best years are ahead of us,” Mark said. “We obviously can’t open our doors like this often, but thanks to all the hard work our volunteers put into this event, we get to show off once a year, and I hear nothing but good things from our guests.”

Of course, Family Day – a massive undertaking – would not exist without thousands of hours put in by volunteers, who were publicly recognized for their efforts by Base Maintenance Vice President Mark Eldred in his opening ceremony remarks and throughout the day as he walked the event and thanked people personally for their roles.

The volunteer corps expanded way beyond Tech Ops and the base support organizations – Airport Operations, Flight Operations and Inflight Operations all sent large cadres of helpers, many of whom staffed the aircraft we had open for cabin and cockpit tours. If that weren’t enough, the 777 BBQ team came in from Houston.

As for dependability and efficiency, the base has been focused since its founding in 1948 on keeping United on time, safe and fully compliant with the highest standards. And the Maintenance Center and Tech Ops as a whole are taking huge strides toward becoming more efficient, not only servicing United’s mainline fleet but also competing as a global provider of MRO (maintenance, repair and overhaul) services.

“I am incredibly proud of all we have accomplished at this base over seven decades, and I think our best years are ahead of us,” Mark said. “We obviously can’t open our doors like this often, but thanks to all the hard work our volunteers put into this event, we get to show off once a year, and I hear nothing but good things from our guests.”

All afternoon, teams tugged the “retro” United livery Airbus A320 in two categories of plane pulls – teams composed of our visitors pulled for fun and bragging rights, and other teams made up of United employees did so for the right to represent SFO in the finals of the employee Plane Pull competition.

While the retirement of the 747 served as the centerpiece of last year’s event, this year’s theme was the long and storied history and bright future of the SFMC. Most attendees at some point made their way over to the widebody Dock 2, where we staged a popup museum highlighting the history of the base, including continuous showings of a video that in 20 minutes neatly told the story of the base and its people – over the years, at least 30,000 technicians and related employees have worked there on the maintenance, repair and overhaul of our aircraft and their components, in addition to many customer aircraft.

The video, as well as the enlargements of historical photos that adorned the space, were done by a sheet metal technician from the SFO Airframe Overhaul and Repair department, Clark Cook, who also just happens to be an accomplished photographer and videographer.

Also in Dock 2, some of our best technicians who just happen to be women – Chix Fix Team – demonstrated some of the events they mastered to qualify for the Aerospace Maintenance Competition; they are in training for their second try at the title in the spring of 2019. During the day, they had a steady stream of spectators and well-wishers, no doubt including young girls and boys who now dream of one day becoming United technicians themselves.

Roving performers dressed in Star Wars regalia are always a big hit with attendees.
The Chix Fix team gave demonstrations throughout the day.
Nose-gear view of the Airbus A320 used in the plane pulls.
A GE90 engine, used to power our 787s, on display in Dock 2.
Base Technician Katrina Oyer of Chix Fix demonstrates safety wiring.
Our 777-300 over Alcatraz Island in San Francisco Bay.
Visitors to the Components area were treated to the soulful sounds of the “core4” band, including Sheet Metal Technician Daniel Davis.
This 737 was up on jacks so visitors could witness how the landing gear lower and retract.
Scott with two of the Special Olympics athletes.
Northern California and Nevada Special Olympics CEO David Solo, on the stage, introduces athletes to the crowd during opening ceremonies.
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Tech Ops Mobility deployment effectively complete
MCO technicians during Tech Ops Mobility Training

Virtually all technicians, supervisors and inspectors in domestic Line Maintenance stations are now equipped with Tech Ops Mobility devices, and the international rollout should be complete by July, as the entire Tech Ops organization moves beyond the fixed-location and green-screen relics of outdated technology.

Tech Ops Mobility and Strategic Planning Managing Director Kurt Carpenter said the focus for the rest of the summer will be on driving adoption of the United Tech application and transitioning away from doing business the old-fashioned way. In addition, iPads will be deployed to those missed during the initial deployment phases.

“For all intents and purposes, domestic deployment is complete, and we’re now putting more effort into working with stations where iPad usage isn’t where we want it to be,” Kurt said. “We’re finding out what’s keeping technicians from using the new systems, and, if there’s an obstacle such as connectivity, we’re addressing that.”

“I also want to recognize the fantastic effort of all those people who have been involved in executing on this monumental deployment plan,” Kurt added. “It has taken an incredible amount of hard work, coordination, travel and long hours. Thank you!”

As of June 7, we are at 94 percent complete overall and have deployed the iPads to one-third of the international users. Any issues that technicians have with the Tech Ops Mobility system and its applications are being addressed on an ongoing basis. IT Application Development Director Helon Hammond said user feedback has been invaluable since the beginning and continues to be the primary factor in making changes and updates. A major upgrade to the United Tech app was pushed on June 4, addressing a number of requests for interface improvements that have come in directly from technicians and other users.

In addition to constructive criticism the Tech Ops Mobility team uses to develop enhancements, overall comments tend to be supportive. A few recent examples from employees:

  • “The device and its apps are cutting edge and I, for the most part, am technologically challenged by all these ‘modern miracles.’ My colleagues and I are grateful and appreciative of this new tool. Using the device every day increases my proficiency on it.”
  • “I didn’t think I’d like carrying the iPad around, but this is such a useful tool. I love it.”
  • “Trainers have done an outstanding job by supporting and training us with our new iPads.”
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How United technicians are making history

“Many years ago at an air show, I saw a T-shirt that said ‘Chicks fly,’” said MCO Aircraft Maintenance Supervisor and Chix Fix team coach Laura Spolar. “And I told my husband, ‘Chicks can fly, but chicks can also fix!’ A lot of people don’t know that women are aircraft mechanics.”

“Many years ago at an air show, I saw a T-shirt that said ‘Chicks fly,’” said MCO Aircraft Maintenance Supervisor and Chix Fix team coach Laura Spolar. “And I told my husband, ‘Chicks can fly, but chicks can also fix!’ A lot of people don’t know that women are aircraft mechanics.”

Laura didn’t know it at the time, but that conversation would serve as the inspiration for the team name of United’s history-making, all-female team of technicians that competed in the 2018 Aerospace Maintenance Competition (AMC). Of 69 teams at this year’s AMC, only three were made up entirely of women, and Chix Fix was the only one representing a commercial airline.

“It’s so important for us to show young girls and women that this is a career option for them,” said Airframe Overhaul and Repair Managing Director Bonnie Turner, the Chix Fix team captain.

Chix Fix is made up of technicians from five stations. As a group, they only practiced together three times before the competition, but they bonded instantly.

“I feel like I’ve known these women my whole career,” said DEN Line Technician Janelle Bendt. “It’s been a lot of fun getting to know them and learning from them.”

“As a team we just communicate really well; we all respect each other,” said SFO Base Technician Katrina Oyer. “The biggest thing I’ve taken away from this experience is confidence. Working with these ladies is an eye opener. We really can do anything.”

The Chix Fix team is composed of: DEN Line Technician Janelle Bendt, ORD Aircraft Inspector Polly Delaney, DEN Aircraft Maintenance Supervisor and team coach Dana Eads, LAX Avionics Line Technician Joie Mulherin, SFO Base Technician Katrina Oyer, MCO Aircraft Maintenance Supervisor and team coach Laura Spolar, SFO Aircraft Interior Repair Technician Natalie Vo, LAX Line Technician Zoe Wainwright.

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CLE technicians celebrate their win

A team of United’s CLE technicians repeated as Commercial Airline Division winners and also took the overall crown of the 69-team Aerospace Maintenance Competition (AMC) in Orlando, Florida, while our IAH Base Maintenance team came in third in its division and our “Chix Fix” team received special recognition for scoring highest of the three all-female teams entered this year.

During the awards ceremony Thursday, it was apparent early that CLE would be a serious contender, as the team picked up six of the individual award trophies, more than any other team. IAH picked up three as the morning went on, and Chix Fix was tops in one category. IAH's strong finish in the MRO category set up the big showdown among airlines.

When Alaska Airlines-SEA and American Airlines-DFW were given second place and third place in the Commercial Airline category, it was pretty clear then that CLE techs would make at least one more trip to the podium, and they did. A short time later, the team heard its name called one last time to get the AMC’s top honor, the William F. O’Brien Award for Excellence in Aircraft Maintenance award.

Earlier, Chix Fix and the other two all-women’s teams – from Pratt & Whitney and Elevate Aviation – were recognized for helping inspire more women to seek careers in aircraft maintenance, and the Chix Fix members were given a special trophy for being the top all-women’s team.

Congratulations again to the two-time champions from CLE, and here’s hoping for a three-peat at the 2019 AMC, which will be held in Atlanta next April. They are: Avionics Technician Eric Dschuhan, Lead Line Technician Brian Hall, and Line Technicians Dan Morrison, Garrett Morrison, R.J. Peterson, Dave Vance and Jack Waldeck. Their coach is CLE Shift Manager Russ Peterson.

“Congratulations to our champions, and to all of our teams, who performed so well and demonstrated superb teamwork and professionalism,” said Maintenance Operations VP Don Wright.

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May the best techs win
A team of CLE technicians has been in serious training mode all year, preparing to defend their title this April at the 2018 Aerospace Maintenance Competition (AMC). Three of the 70 teams hoping to dethrone them are also made up of United Airlines technicians, including the first-ever all-female team in the Commercial Airlines division.

“We’ve all been preparing as individual teams and as one big team, so we can demonstrate how United Tech Ops is the best in the business,” said CLE Technician Jack Waldeck. “Ideally, the United teams will finish 1-2-3-4 – with CLE taking the top prize again, of course.”

This year, in addition to CLE, we are sending teams from MCO (Orlando, Florida) Line Maintenance and the “Chix Fix,” comprised of six women from DEN, LAX, ORD and SFO, to compete in the Commercial Airlines division. IAH Base Maintenance is also fielding a team in the Repair and Manufacturing division. The other four divisions are General Aviation, Military, School and Space.

In 2017, in addition to placing first among Commercial Airlines, Jack and his teammates took the AMC’s top honor, the William F. O’Brien Award for Excellence in Aircraft Maintenance. (Watch a video produced by the AMC’s main sponsor, Snap-on.)

“We were underdogs,” Jack noted. “A few other teams were, shall we say, a little upset that we won and are gunning for us this year.”

Along with being defending champions, CLE has the longest history with the event, having first fielded a team in 2008. MCO will have “home field advantage” for the second year in a row, as the event is again being held in Orlando as part of the huge MRO Americas 2018 industry conference. From the Base Maintenance organization, we typically alternate sending teams from the Houston and San Francisco complexes.

The idea for an all-women team came from Tech Ops’ Women in Aviation International (WAI participants, said SFO Airframe Repair and Overhaul Managing Director Bonnie Turner, who is captain of Chix Fix; the coaches, Supervisor Laura Spolar (MCO) and Senior Supervisor Dana Eads (DEN), also have been active for years in WAI.

“One of the best reasons to field a team of women is to encourage more women to join us in this field,” Laura said. “Someday we hope to have enough women technicians in every hub to field an all-local all-women’s team.”

“It’s been a little different for our team, since we don’t always work in the same station,” said LAX Avionics Line Technician Joanne Mulherin about the Chix Fix team. “The guys, on the other hand, are always in the same place. That’s OK with us, though; it just means we have to work harder, and we have been.”

Since the beginning of the year, the teams have spent countless hours getting ready and have held three joint team-building and practice sessions – at SFO, IAH and earlier this week at CLE. They gathered to study the event manuals and hone the skills they will need to master the 30 events they will face over three days. In some cases, they are using the same techniques on the same equipment they use regularly. For other events, they will have to apply their skills to tasks and on devices not common at United hangars.

One event involves a particular type of magneto used on light aircraft, not large jets, so an MCO team member who had access to one brought it to the group sessions. Another event involves a sophisticated troubleshooting simulator, so CLE Lead Line Technician Brian Hall contacted the manufacturer and persuaded them to bring its demo unit out to the hangar, and every team had an hour to run through the routines.

“Specialists who are the ‘go-to’ techs for certain things will always have an event or two where they’ll be able to really shine, but on a team level, the AMC requires broad knowledge of the whole field of aeronautics,” said CLE Shift Manager Russ Peterson, team captain and also the father of defending championship team member Line Technician R.J. Peterson. “We look for well-rounded technicians who are as comfortable with sheet metal as they are with advanced avionics.”

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Aircraft Recovery team’s credo: ‘Do no harm’

Twenty-four members of our Aircraft Recovery Team underwent three days of intensive training at IAH earlier this month and they practiced skills we hope are never required – safely removing a disabled aircraft that is blocking a runway, taxiway or ramp at an airport we serve.

Some of the Aircraft Recovery team taking a short break during two days of field training. In this photo, the nose landing gear are retracted and the aircraft is resting on its nose

The team members gathered for a day of classroom training followed by two intense days of field exercises on a remote corner of the airfield. The subject aircraft, a T-43A (modified Boeing 737-200) belongs to the Houston Police Department and is used for various drills and exercises at the airport.

Principal Line Support Engineer and Aircraft Recovery Team Leader Marc Felice said team members came from all seven hubs as well as CLE, GUM, HNL (Honolulu) and MCO (Orlando, Florida) to join others already trained in stations ranging from GRU (São Paolo) and LHR (London Heathrow) to SYD (Sydney).

Working alongside local employees and business partners, they are on call 24/7 as part of the United Emergency Response Team to handle towing, jacking and lifting aircraft that have become immobilized for various reasons – from failed supports or landing gear to slides off runways or taxiways. The complex recovery kits are kept in six locations – HNL, IAD, IAH, MCO, ORD and SFO – so are never more than a few hours away from a recovery scene.

At our IAH exercise, the teams became familiar with the various components of the recovery kit, which is treated as non-calibrated tooling, and they practiced towing an off-pavement aircraft using an emergency towing kit. These are used in situations where a conventional tow tractor or recovery vehicle is not practical.

In a simulation of a plane that landed with the nose landing gear not extended, they raised the T-43A’s forward fuselage with a sling lift and a crane, then inflated a set of airbags underneath to support it until a trolley could be moved into place to enable moving the plane.

On the second day, they performed a full lift of the entire aircraft, using sets of airbags underneath both wings and the fuselage. It’s not as simple as it sounds.

“The reason we have so many hoses going to so many airbags is that we have strict pressure limits for the fuselage and wing skin contact areas and thus need to control the pressure going into each compartment of the airbag so the plane lifts evenly and safely,” Marc explained.

“Our first priority in any recovery is – Do no harm,” Marc said. “First of all, the recovery needs to be done safely for all the people involved,” Marc said. “Also, while we need to work quickly, we need to take every step to make sure we don’t cause any secondary damage to the aircraft. Third, we need to work quickly – incidents that require recovery are extremely costly for the aircraft operator and for the airfield.”

Twice this year, our team has responded to incidents that fortunately were relatively minor. An axle collapsed on an Airbus A320 in EWR, and with the support of a local vendor we moved it from the gate to a hangar. In IAH, a wing jack failed under a Boeing 737-800 that was in for maintenance. The team used recovery airbags to free the failed jack and replace it with an operational one. Also, this year in HNL, our local team member supported Line Maintenance when a Boeing 737-900 had a tire and wheel failure during taxi.

In addition to our own recovery teams and kits, United is a member of the International Airlines Technical Pool (IATP) cooperative, which has 12 kits and “go” teams stationed around the world. We are the designated responder in HNL and conduct annual exercises as part of the IATP commitment. Coincidentally, while we were conducting our IAH training, a number of our Brazil-based employees took part in an annual IATP exercise in GIG (Rio de Janeiro) held by region recovery provider LATAM Airlines Brasil (JJ). Their kit is based in GRU; and our GRU Aircraft Maintenance Manager Jose Lisboa said our participants got invaluable experience in not only the recovery exercise itself, but also in the logistics of transporting a kit and using it in a different location.

Preparing to inflate airbags to raise nose of aircraft
Safety bags inflated under aft section of aircraft
Practicing with the emergency towing equipment
The air pressure is carefully controlled so the fuselage is lifted without causing stress on the airframe
SFO Airframe Senior Manager Joe Casebeer and SFO Base Tooling Supervisor Julio Martin at the controls of the airbag system. Julio was in charge of all the equipment we used in the training exercises.
Sling in place
Full aircraft lift with gear up – the plane is completely supported by airbags at this point
TSAP Program Manager Matt Bagley was at the controls when we retracted the gear on the T-43A (which is a modified Boeing 737-200). The entire 63,000-pound aircraft is supported by airbags at this point.
Carefully positioning the sling over the fuselage; the Aircraft Recovery team works hard to prevent any secondary damage to disabled aircraft
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We donate ground power unit to Lewis University

A delegation of United Tech Ops employees, some of them graduates of the Lewis University Aviation Program, returned to campus on Oct. 12 to donate a ground power unit (GPU) that will help Lewis students prepare for careers in aviation – preferably at United.

Photo shows Lewis alumnus GSE Maintenance Operations Supervisor Doug Sobieski and his son Alex, a current student at Lewis University

Tactical Planning Director Craig Linkinhoker keeps close ties with Lewis, Purdue and his alma mater, Southern Illinois, representing the company during recruitment fairs and other events. While at Lewis earlier this year, Aviation Chair and Assistant Professor R. Eric Jones mentioned to Craig that the university’s aging GPU was failing.

Craig reached out to our Facilities and Ground Service Equipment Maintenance department, and they agreed that one of the GPUs scheduled for retirement could be reconditioned and given to the university.

“Lewis has long been a school that sends us qualified candidates,” Craig said. “It benefits us in the long run when their students have hands-on experience with the same equipment our technicians use every day.”

Matthew Copenhaver, Anthony Bonk, Eric Jones, Craig Linkinhoker, Doug Sobieski, John Kennedy, Kim Pritchard and Lewis University Aviation and Transportation Assistant Professor Matt Franklin.

Joining Craig for the visit were several Lewis alumni: ORD Ground Service Equipment Technician-Line Anthony Bonk, Tactical Planner Matthew Copenhaver, ORD Ground Service Equipment Technician-Line John Kennedy and GSE Maintenance Operations Supervisor Doug Sobieski. Anthony and John helped get the GPU ready for Lewis and credited fellow GSE Technician Greg Roter with doing the lion’s share of preparation work on the unit.

While touring the facilities and hangar, Craig was able to visit his nephew Michael, and Doug his son Alex – both are current students who were doing hands-on coursework in the hangar at the time.

“Lewis University is a great partner for United, not only for sending us so many high-quality applicants, but also for the continuing studies programs it offers for our employees who want to keep working and still pursue a degree,” noted Tech Ops Hiring Programs Senior Manager Kim Pritchard.

Lewis Aviation Program E. Eric Jones thanked our delegation and remarked on the school’s “long and fruitful” collaboration with United. The university’s aviation facilities include a Boeing 737-200 that United donated in 1999.

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Techs from CLE win top prize at MRO competition

A team of technicians from our CLE Line Maintenance operation took the top honor, the William F. O'Brien Award for Excellence in Aircraft Maintenance, at this year's Aerospace Maintenance Competition (AMC).

The CLE team on the podium with Maintenance Operations VP Don Wright (second from right) and ORD Managing Director James Montgomery (far right)

Team CLE also won the Commercial Aviation category, beating teams from Alaska Airlines, FedEx, JetBlue, UPS and others. They also placed first in four of the 26 individual competition events at the AMC, which was held in conjunction with the MRO Americas conference in Orlando, Florida.

The AMC this year had more than 50 teams, in Commercial, Military, Aviation School, Repair, Space and Private Aviation categories.

We have won the AMC twice before, in 2008 and 2009, and both times CLE fielded the winning team, said Line Maintenance Managing Director for Southeast Region James Hammer. "To win not only their division but the entire AMC is an amazing testament to their professionalism, talent and drive," Jim said.

"Congratulations to our Cleveland team," said Maintenance Operations VP Don Wright. "Our other teams also performed well and make us proud of our entire Technical Operations family. Throughout this conference, and especially during the AMC, I believe we really showed the rest of the industry what an incredible group of technicians and support personnel we're fortunate to have working for United."

Don also recognized ORD Line Maintenance Managing Director James Montgomery for spearheading United's resurgence as a major force in the competition. "Jim has really been the catalyst for our increased participation and success," Don said. "Without his support and coordination over the years, this would never have happened."

The team members -- Sheet Metal Technician Bryan Brown; Avionics Technician Eric Dschuhan, Line Technician Russell Peterson, Jr.; Lead Line Technician Brian Hall; Line Technician Garrett Morrison; and Line Technician John Waldeck -- were coached by Shift Manager Russ Peterson.

The AMC showcases the talent required of aircraft maintenance technicians (AMTs) to maintain aircraft and spacecraft in safe, airworthy condition. The teams competed over two days in events that tested their knowledge and skill. At each station, the teams have 15 minutes to complete events such as electrical troubleshooting, composite repair, turbine engine troubleshooting, structural repair, and nondestructive testing; they also take written exams on history, human factors and weight and balance.

We also fielded teams from our Line Maintenance station at the host city, MCO (Orlando, Florida) and the San Francisco Maintenance Base. The MCO team included Avionics Technician-Line Gale Crom, Line Technician Jared Hegna, Sheet Metal Technician-Line Matt Ludwig, Avionics Technician-Line Chris Maddock and Line Technician Shiva Ramcoobair. They were coached by Senior Supervisors Joe Blanchette and Joe DeGraw. The SFO Base team was made up of Base Technician Albert De Lisle, Avionics Technician-Base Billy Dyar, Base Technician Rodrigo Garay, Base Technician Alex Valdes and Sheet Metal Technician-Base Stephen West. Their coach was Airframe Overhaul and Repair Senior Manager Joe Casebeer.

In addition to the three teams, United sponsored the Fuel Tank Entry competition event; thanks to IAH Base Senior Supervisor Fred Glau, Avionics Technician-Base Scott Cole, Lead Sheet Metal Technician-Base Paul Davis and Avionics Technician-Base Doug Richey.

United had a major presence at the entire MRO Americas conference, which attracted more than 13,000 attendees. We had a recruitment table at the AMC, and over the course of the conference, talked to many prospective United AMTs, both from aviation schools and from other companies. The United Tech Ops Sales and Marketing team also had a popular booth, and United employees were featured during a number of sessions of the MRO Americas conference.

Maintenance Operations VP Don Wright visits with team members during a break in the action
SFO Base team members during the window sealing event
All three of our teams -- representing CLE (front row), MCO Line Maintenance and the San Francisco base
Technician Rodrigo Garay and Avionics Technician-Base Billy Dyar of the SFO team during competition
Tech Ops Recruitment Manager Brad Sabathne and MCO Line Maintenance Supervisor Laura Spolar were among United employees talking to prospective job applicants during the AMC
The CLE team during the wheel and brake removal and installation event
The winning CLE team: Sheet Metal Technician Bryan Brown, Line Technician Russell Peterson Jr., Lead Line Technician Brian Hall, Line Technician Garrett Morrison, Line Technician John Waldeck, and their coach, Shift Manager Russ Peterson. (Not pictured, Avionics...
The CLE team is presented with the William F. O’Brien Award for Excellence in Aircraft Maintenance at the conclusion of the Aerospace Maintenance Competition April 27
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