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    • Hub Interviews: Jim DeYoung on network operations
    • https://hub.united.com/PublishingImages/Hub%20Images%20120811/Author%20profile/hub-photo.pngUnited Hub team
      Posted Jun 06, 2013 at 7:00 PM
    • Jim DeYoung, Network Operations Center, United AirlinesJim DeYoung joined United in Chicago as an Air Traffic Control Coordinator and Flight Dispatcher in 2000. During his time with the company, he held roles of increasing responsibility including Manager, Flight Dispatch Operations, and in 2009 became the Managing Director of Network Operations Control. In his role, Jim is responsible for overseeing United’s daily flight activity with responsibility for operations strategy, flight dispatch, meteorology and aircraft routing. 

      Prior to joining United, Jim held similar positions in the Operations Control Center at Trans States Airlines in St. Louis, managing their partner flying and air traffic coordination activities for United, American and US Airways. Jim began his aviation career in the Corporate Flight Operations Department at Anheuser-Busch in St. Louis, where he started in line operations while pursuing a BS in Aeronautics and Air Traffic Control from Saint Louis University’s Parks College. 

      United Hub: How and when did your interest in aviation begin?

      Jim DeYoung: I’ve always been in love with airplanes. I was the youngest of three kids and my older sisters both married pilots. My father was in the Air Force. In my early teens, I got a lot of exposure to general aviation and began flying lessons while in high school. In college, I studied air traffic control while continuing flying lessons.

      Hub: What inspired you to pursue your fields of study and does your training inform your work now?

      Jim: Due to many factors, it appeared that a career as a professional pilot wasn’t in the cards and in college, a professor advised me to go into either airline management or airport management. I like the moving part of aviation, so I went into airline management and pursued college courses related to that field. During college I was offered a full-time job working in Anheuser Busch’s corporate flight department. I started on the ramp and gradually moved up as I transitioned out of college and into flight planning and dispatch of airplanes. While working there, I heard about an opportunity as a crew scheduler with Trans States Airlines (Trans World Express) in Saint Louis. After 6 months as a crew scheduler, they offered to provide me with flight dispatcher training and licensing.

      I’ve always been interested in aviation but the logistics and management of airplane flows is the direction I wanted to go in. After a year working at Trans States as a dispatcher, I moved into management. What was appealing about that job is that I got to touch a lot of different things: crew scheduling, flight dispatch, operations management, and managing a network (albeit small).

      Hub: What brought you to United?

      Jim: Chicago is my hometown and I’ve always wanted to work for United in one capacity or another. Trans States was just starting a contract with United Express, and a United team came to the office to talk about the launch of the operation. In 2000 I was hired by United as a flight dispatcher and air traffic coordinator and, in 2003, I became a dispatch manager. I had an opportunity in air traffic control, working closely with the FAA. That gave me a very strong framework with network operations, with respect to weather.

      Coming from a small regional airline to United was certainly eye-opening.  On a daily basis, our flights and operations are affected by numerous factors beyond the airline’s (and a dispatcher’s) control. A flight dispatcher plans the most efficient route in terms of safety, time, and cost – taking into account weather and aircraft status. But there are other constraints – for example, a limited number of runways or a limited number of routes in and out of airports. The slightest hint of weather can affect flights, causing them to deviate from their planned routes or scheduled times.

      In 2009, I became managing director of the Network Operations Center (NOC), which juggles a host of different priorities, the primary ones being to get our customers to their destination safely and on time.

      Hub: Describe your current role. What are your job responsibilities?

      Jim: My job is to make sure the daily operation runs as smoothly as possible for our customers. There are multiple components to that, the most important being safety. It’s like a symphony. You have the conductor and all these musician-specialists and they all have to be working together. The flight dispatch team works closely with our meteorologists and flight crew to make sure we’re planning the most efficient flight in terms of safety, time and fuel. Network directors, routers, and operations managers coordinate with other key stakeholders including flight crew scheduling, inflight crew scheduling, technical operations and maintenance – all with the goal of minimizing irregular operations for our customers.

      Hub: What’s the first thing you do when you get to work each day?

      Jim: The first thing I do in the morning is give myself a weather and air traffic control briefing and compare those with the operating plan that our network directors and dispatchers have formulated – to make sure that the entire team of people in the Network Operations Center are ready and equipped to handle whatever the day will bring.

      That’s the great thing about the Network Operations Center: You have a team of specialists from different areas of operations but they’re all assembled in one area.

      Hub: What kinds of situations do you and your team work with?

      Jim:  Getting an airplane from A to B takes a lot of coordinating. You have to plan routine maintenance work. You have to plan for an alternate route when there’s turbulence. That’s what this room does. For example, we may have weather in Houston or Chicago that has a ripple effect across the entire network. Or an airplane may be on time at one location but the crew hasn’t arrived yet because they’re coming from a different airplane that has been affected by weather. It’s important for my team and the teams in the field to understand that. One minor delay at one hub can affect other hubs. 

      Our network director here stays in constant contact with the hubs via conference calls three times a day; we review how the operations are progressing and what the next 24 hours will bring. Each hub is unique and once every quarter, I visit each of them in person. In between those visits, I host bi-weekly network reviews, with the objective of looking for improvements and takeaways. Recently, I was at O’Hare to discuss irregular operations strategy with the hub leadership team as we transition into thunderstorm season, as well as lessons learned from winter and last year’s thunderstorm season. There’s no one playbook. We continually tweak our operating strategy to fit the situations at hand.

      Hub: How do you plan for upcoming weather events?

      Jim: In addition to tactical or “day-of” management, we have a large focus on pre-planning. We’ll begin planning for significant irregular operations up to three days in advance of large winter or tropical (hurricane) events and, even for our air traffic control-constrained hubs, we’ll have our schedule plan ready the day prior.

      Hub:  What about regulatory compliance?

      Jim: We meet with a team of FAA inspectors a few times each month to talk about our safety action plans and changes in federal aviation regulations. We have standing meetings, ad hoc meetings and conference calls. It is a very important partnership. In addition, United works closely with the FAA on improving regulatory components and making sure that our policies and procedures meet the intent of the regulation.

      Hub: What’s the best thing about your job?

      Jim: My office is right on the floor and I’m an operational type of person. The hum of the operation is where I get a lot of my gratification. When I see the performance metrics in green and the aircraft flowing across the screens, there’s a lot of pride in that and a lot of pride in the co-workers who make that happen. That’s really the most gratifying part of the job. I want to make sure we give them the best information and best tools possible.

      Hub: Do you think social media plays a role in how you communicate network operations information?

      Jim: There’s definite value. I think airlines are just beginning to crack the surface on the information we can get to our customers.  Our NOC team is working with several groups on the ability to improve our communication, with a goal of providing our customers with additional insight into our operating plans, where we could see delays, and how weather will affect our system.
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