Wednesday, September 23, 2015

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PIT Satellite Base - LUS

Wouldn’t it be great if we could get a Pittsburgh, PA (PIT) satellite base up and running? The answer is undeniably yes. But how does a satellite work and what would that mean for PIT?

A satellite base is an airport that is associated with a base station (in the same time zone) from which sequences originate and terminate. The city must have enough commuters from the associated base station to cover flying that opens at the satellite base and by definition does not have Reserves assigned to the operation.

The flying included in the sequences doesn’t always come solely from the base station it’s associated with. It can be legs from anywhere in the system that make sense from the satellite. There also must be enough overnighting aircraft to provide enough departures to create enough jobs to justify the operation.

Currently, there are four satellite bases operating at LAA. They are SAN operating out of LAX, SMF out of SFO, MSP out of ORD and ATL out of MIA. For the majority of the year, approximately 15-32 Flight Attendants operate the satellite flying out of each city.

Satellites must be cost neutral at a minimum or, more ideally, result in cost savings. Some savings are generated by the reduction in lost time from the base. All flying must be covered by satellite Flight Attendants and cannot be added to “open time” or require coverage by a Reserve. What that means is that the satellite fliers must be organized and prepared to cover flying that opens due to illness, injury, weather disruptions, bereavement, jury duty, etc. Everyone must be prepared to trade pairings from the “mother base” so that if someone must call off, the trip that opens is not from the satellite.

How does that happen? A Satellite Coordinator takes on the responsibilities of Flight Service and Crew Schedule (for the low pay of 15 hours a month). In many cases, the Coordinator can’t even hold the flying at the base as it goes very senior, but she or he is responsible for managing the up-to-date contact information, notifying every one of the need for coverage and making sure it happens, and generally supporting the operation. They can’t do it alone; all of the satellite fliers must commit to contributing to the success of the base. If the satellite isn’t managing itself, it won’t last long.

One of the first hurdles to overcome was co-pairing. That wouldn’t have been possible out of a satellite base without pilots assigned to it. But as Crew Resources began moving to building only the contractually required co-paired trips, that problem was eliminated. Next, because this is a LAA concept, all of the new scheduling systems introduced at LUS are not programmed to handle satellite flying. One of the main issues that all of the systems must recognize is that Flight Attendants cannot involuntarily be assigned flying from the satellite. Not in PBS, not in ISAP and not in ROTA (regardless of the fact that these pairings should never make it to Reserves). ETB must also be able to process the satellite pairings.

The good news is that many of the operational challenges previous satellite bases faced don’t exist for PIT. Parking is arranged and check in/computer space exists. Also, problems like Flight Attendants with vacation accidentally bidding the satellite trips and opening time (due to trips missed) won’t happen. Also, no one should mis-bid the satellite since PBS will require Flight Attendants to preference it. It’s also exciting to think that the trips may be distributed among a few more Flight Attendants, since they don’t have to be offered in lines.

While we wait for IT’s response, we are working to improve how each of the current satellite bases function and to provide a solid template for any new satellite that opens. We’ve invited two potential PIT satellite coordinators to participate in those discussions.

So where are we? Crew Resources and IT are evaluating how long it will take to program and test whether all these programs and CATCREW can handle satellite pairings and the awarding, assigning, and trading of them. 
There is no firm decision yet, but the steps necessary to evaluate a PIT satellite are being taken. Each of these steps are necessary for any satellite base and APFA is well aware there is great interest in many cities, such as Las Vegas, NV (LAS). We’ll keep you updated in the APFA hotline.

Jaimie McNeice
APFA National Scheduling Chair

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