ExpressJet Pursues New Workforce and Technology Initiatives
ExpressJet Airlines is pursuing maintenance workforce and technology growth following its sale earlier this year to ManaAir, a joint venture between KAir Enterprises and United Airlines. The regional carrier has just announced a sign-on bonus program for new-hire A&P maintenance technicians to jump start its recruiting process as it adds the Embraer E175 to its fleet.
According to ExpressJet CEO Subodh Karnik, the sale to ManaAir has led the carrier to go from being in “shrink mode” to embarking on an “enormous growth plan”—including adding to the workforce. “We are basically going 180 degrees now from shrinking over the last 10 years to grow, grow grow,” he explains. “So, consequently, we are now looking to jump start our recruiting process which effectively has not been very active for the last several years.”
The sign-on bonus program, which will vary depending on maintenance base and years of experience, will offer A&P maintenance technicians joining the carrier in Chicago, Cleveland, Houston, Knoxville and Richmond up to $18,000. ExpressJet’s only maintenance base where the bonus is not being offered is Newark, where the carrier says it is already fully staffed.
The airline, which is in the midst of a labor dispute with mechanics over stagnant wages, says the announcement of the bonus program is unrelated to tensions with current workforce. Karnik says ExpressJet is unable to provide detailed comments due to being in the midst of mediation, but disputes claims by Teamster spokesperson Kara Deniz that the carrier is looking to take away mechanics’ non-contributory 401K pension to fund raises, saying the argument is a “red herring.”
Bruce Jones, the airline’s vice president of maintenance and engineering, adds: “There is a very competitive and lucrative 401K plan that all employees are eligible for, including all the Teamsters, and that is there and will be there.”
According to Jones, implementing the sign-on bonus program made sense as a way to stay competitive with other regional carriers chasing the same talent pool. “We are excited to offer this competitive new program to incentivize qualified A&P maintenance technicians to come work with us,” he says. “With the new sign-on bonus and the addition of 25 Embraer E175 aircraft to our fleet this year, it has never been a more exciting time to join the ExpressJet maintenance team.”
The E175 itself is jump starting technology transformation at the carrier. According to Jones, the aircraft type differs from ExpressJet’s existing ERJ145 fleet in that it notifies mechanics about problems through computer systems rather than mechanics diagnosing problems through traditional troubleshooting. While this has been a hurdle for older mechanics, he adds that the carrier is providing in-house training to all of its mechanics to familiarize them with the aircraft type.
Karnik says the high-tech E175 will help ExpressJet transition more fully into the world of big data, which is already so ingrained at larger airlines. “As part of our E175, we’re now subscribing to all of the big data diagnostics that Embraer and GE are offering, and so it’s going to be an extraordinary learning experience for us to transition from the older style of doing it to the new world of doing it,” he explains.
In addition to a primary focus on implementing Embraer and GE’s big data products, the airline is also working to go paperless. Jones says ExpressJet is approximately 95% of the way through transitioning to paperless records and has been testing handheld systems for technicians. The carrier is now designing a timeline for implementing a fully paperless environment, which Karnik describes as a major initiative.
Meanwhile, the carrier is also in the midst of initiatives to develop relationships with A&P schools, youth schools and camps, and creating internal referral programs to help build up the future workforce pipeline.