United operations center to move downtown

November 25, 2009 3:38:48 PM PST
This is a very busy weekend for United Airlines. Beside the Thanksgiving weekend travel rush, the airline is planning to move its operations center from suburban Elk Grove Village to Willis Tower. The move will take several months and is no small undertaking.

The operations Control center for United Airlines is a big room with a lot of people who have a big responsibility. It's where United watches and directs its worldwide flight operations. Flight dispatch, maintenance control, crew scheduling, customer advocates are all monitored there - United's mothership. When there's weather, when there are computer glitches, when there are aircraft issues the center is where the decisions and the adjustments are made.

In the next ten months, the whole show is moving, relocating to the 28th floor of the Willis Tower downtown. It's no small undertaking.

"It's a monumental move. It's as I equate it to changing the tire on a car driving down the highway because we cannot break. We're 24-7 and we've got to make sure we get it right," said Don Dillman, United V.P., Operations Control.

United's ops control center has been housed in Elk Grove Village at the airline's headquarters complex since the mid 1960s, but with headquarters having moved downtown, ops control is following suit. A new home presents a chance to explore new technology, a new layout, new ideas.

"We're thinking about the idea of do we want to base everybody's work station off laptops. Does it give us some contingency options if we have to get out of that facility. If we ever have to evaluate that facility, does it give us more options?" said Dillman.

Having portable options is important no matter what the building. United chose the Willis Tower because it's comfortable with its security, the work space, and most certainly a $35 million package of relocation incentives from the city of Chicago.

Moving won't be, as Dillman says, a knife-edge cutover, but it will come fairly quickly when the pieces parts are in place. The challenge is make a seamless transition on the ground, and the people in the air don't miss a beat.

The target date for the move is sometime next October. That may seem a long way off, but the time will fly.

When the control ops center relocates to the Willis Tower, the elk grove facility will remain as a back up for at least several years.


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