Tuesday, November 4, 2014

When your base ceases to exist

The closing of a base. It doesn't happen often, but when it does things get difficult quickly.

Contrary to popular belief a pilot base does not have to be a hub for a major airline. One airline, Republic, likes to have non-hub bases.

Republic has pilot bases in Louisville, Kentucky; Greensboro, North Carolina; Columbus, Ohio and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania among others. None of those is a hub for a major airline.

Most regional airlines do base their pilots in the hubs of their major airline partners.

Being based at a hub has it's perks. There are likely more flights at the Hub than an out station which makes it easier for commuters. Hubs also tend to have more robust services (easier de-icing, multiple runways for less congestion, more places to eat).

No matter where a pilot is based there is always a risk of a base being closed.

My airline has closed several bases since I started 7 years ago. When I started there were 8 pilot bases to choose from. Today there are 4. Soon there will be 3. Rumor is there could just be 2.

Pilot contracts vary when it comes to expenses involved with closing of a base. My airline is about average as it will pay all moving expenses (professional moving company or actual cost if you do it yourself) from your old base to your new one. The airline also gives up to 3 days off to complete your move. I know of at least one regional airline that gives pilots nothing when a base closes.

Moving when single is fairly easy. You pack up and move. When a pilot is married and has kids it gets complicated.

The pilot I'm flying with this week just moved to my base. He's been at my airline for 16 years. His base closed last year and tried commuting for a while. It was rough.

His former base had over 200 pilots plus another 130 flight attendants who were nearly all local. Overnight they all became commuters. With near record load factors, commuting was difficult as there were sometimes over 50 employees a day commuting to work. They were "fighting" for seats along with other employees who were on vacations.

For him moving was the only option. Lucky for him his wife worked from home and his kids were just graduating high school.

Rather than just move to any base he picked the largest base in the system assuming it was safe. Many of the other pilots in the base moved to the next closest base. They made an unfortunate choice as that base will soon be closing.

This next base to close has over 250 pilots and another 140 flight attendants.

When a base closes the airline runs a displacement bid. Displacement bids are like a game of musical chairs only slightly modified.

The airline is running a vacancy bid along with the displacement bid. There are an equal number of Captain and First Officer slots being added to two of the 3 other pilot bases. It looks like this



120 Fargo Captains

130 Fargo First Officers



120 Omaha Captains

130 Omaha First Officers


As I mentioned there are currently 3 active pilot bases. In addition to "Omaha" there are "Portland" and "Reno".

The pilots from Fargo can displace to ANY pilot base that their seniority can hold. Right now the commute between "Fargo" and "Omaha" is really rough as it's a popular tourist route and a lot of mainline employees commute between the two bases. Fargo to Portland is easier. Portland also happens to be the junior base.

Even though there are no vacancies posted in Portland or Reno, Fargo pilots can choose to displace to them. Once a Fargo pilot displaces to Portland or Reno, the bottom pilots at each base are forced out. They then have to choose to displace to another base. A single pilot displacement can cause countless more displacements.

I say choose, but in reality it must be pre-selected. Each pilot has to set up and maintain a displacement preference. They have to list, in order, the places they would like to go if they are displaced.

Say I was the most senior pilot in Fargo. I chose to displace to Portland. I then push out the bottom First Officer in Portland. He then displaces to Reno. He pushes out the most junior pilot in Reno who has no where to go but Omaha.

Thankfully there are enough seats for everyone to sit when the music stops. When there are more pilots than seats.....that's when furloughs happen.

I don't envy them in the slightest.

My seniority is high enough that I shouldn't be affected much. I ran the numbers and only 16 First Officers in Fargo are senior to me. This means, as long as no Fargo Captains displace to First Officer, I will have at most 16 pilots coming in above me. Since I'm based in "Omaha" I don't forecast much change as Fargo pilots will likely not displace here.

On a slightly positive note there's a smaller glimmer of hope I could slide over to the Captains seat. In addition to published vacancies, my airline has the option of back filing. Back filling is replacing pilots who retire or quit from random bases.


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