United to open new pilot bases for 1st time in more than 20 years, adding Las Vegas and Orlando
United Airlines is slated to open new pilot bases in Orlando and Las Vegas in May 2023, according to a memo sent to crews Wednesday.
Airline Weekly, which obtained a copy of the memo, first reported this development.
The changes will see the Chicago-based carrier open a pilot base for the first time in more than 20 years. The Las Vegas base will be home to 204 pilots and the Orlando base 300. The Orlando location may potentially include Tampa as well. Both new bases are exclusively for Boeing 737 pilots and will shave off hours from pilots’ commutes to other bases to operate their trips.
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The bases will not become new hubs for the airline. Part of the reasoning for establishing the new pilot bases was not only to shorten commutes for pilots but also to reduce delay times. Plus, outside of the carrier's current bases, thousands of United pilots reside in Florida and Nevada.
“Additionally, having pilots positioned in more locations throughout the country will help bolster our operational integrity,” Zach Shapiro, the United managing director of flight crew sources, said in the Wednesday memo.
United mostly had bases in its hubs — pilots can live wherever they please, but they are responsible for commuting to their bases to operate their flights. Oftentimes, these commutes can be inconvenient, especially if pilots live in Florida but have to fly to Chicago or San Francisco to work their flights, for example.
United has eight hubs in the U.S.: Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR), Los Angeles International Airport (LAX), Antonio B. Won Pat International Airport (GUM), San Francisco International Airport (SFO), O'Hare International Airport (ORD), Denver International Airport (DEN), Dulles International Airport (IAD) and George Bush Intercontinental Airport (IAH). Besides operating bases in its hubs, United also has a base in Cleveland Hopkins International Airport (CLE), which had been a hub for the carrier until 2014.
The announcement of the new bases comes after thorny contract negotiations between the Air Line Pilots Association — which represents more than 13,000 United pilots — and the Chicago-based carrier. In November, United pilots turned down a tentative agreement that would have given them approximately 15% raises over 18 months, with ALPA saying the contract “fell short.” The airline subsequently gave pilots a 5% raise earlier than scheduled.
Nevertheless, Shapiro emphasized in the memo that the new bases would be “good news for our pilots, our customers and our airlines,” calling them a “win-win-win” situation.