A new pilot contract ratified by the pilots of United Airlines on December 15 will open more opportunities for “large” regional airplane flying by United Express affiliates but likely result in another large-scale grounding of 50-seat regional jets. It also appears to signal a desire for United to add 90- to 120-seat narrowbodies in the category of the Embraer E190/195 and Bombardier CSeries CS100 some time after January 2016.
The four-year pact, which finally allows UAL’s 10,000 pilots to begin working toward a consolidated seniority list following the 2010 merger of United and Continental Airlines, will allow for 255 seventy- and seventy-six-seat aircraft starting Jan. 1, 2014. By that time, 76-seaters may account for 130 of the 255 airplanes, and by Jan. 1, 2016, the number of 76-seaters may rise to 153.
In effect, the contract allows for the addition of 80 airplanes in the 70- and 76-seat categories starting in 2014. Two years later, if United adds new small narrowbodies (defined as the Bombardier CS100, Embraer E190 or Embraer E195) to the mainline, the number of 76-seat airplanes at the United Express carriers may rise from 153 to 223, and the combined complement of 255 seventy/76-seaters may grow to 325. Under the formula, the company may add a single 76-seat aircraft for every one-and-a-quarter small mainline narrowbodies. However, any increase in the number of 76-seaters above 153 would trigger a fairly complicated formula under which the United Express 50-seat fleet, which now numbers some 350, would begin to shrink.
Under the formula, as soon as the 76-seat fleet reaches 154, the number of 50-seaters would start to fall. Much depends on the size of the 50-seat fleet at the time the 76-seat fleet reaches the 154 threshold. Effectively, if the number of 50-seat aircraft in the fleet equals 334, for example, the formula states that the company would have to remove 2.99 (effectively three) fifty-seaters for every 76-seat jet added. If the 50-seat fleet equals 488, then the company would need to remove 5.19 fifty-seaters for every 76-seat jet it adds.
Other conditions include block hour limitations and hub connectivity obligations and a requirement that flights of less than 900 statute miles account for at least 80 percent of all United Express flights in a given month.