Communication & Teamwork Lessons from USAirways.

This past week I was lucky enough to be able to take my community assistant staff on a field trip to USAirways in Pittsburgh, PA. Through the efforts of a friend, we were able to tour the Operations Command Center (OCC) and aircraft maintenance in one of the hangars. While lately many airlines come under the criticism of passengers due to fees, cancellations, and other customer service issues, I gained a whole new respect for the work that airline personnel do.

The depth and complexity of what it takes to manage a fleet of commercial airplanes is absolutely fascinating! I took my staff on this trip because I knew they would learn more about appreciating the value of communication and teamwork.

Delegating Tasks Among Colleagues – Because USAirways flight controllers and mechanics cannot work 24/7, they have to delegate what they are working on to their colleagues who are starting a new work shift. Their shifts are purposely designed to overlap at least 30 minutes so that they can accurately communicate what work needs to continue. A flight dispatcher in charge of five airplanes currently in flight cannot simply walk away from those pilots and let their incoming colleague guess as to what is going on in the air. The same goes for the aircraft mechanics. A first-shift mechanic will walk their inc0ming second-shift colleague through what projects are currently open and their progress on that work so the second-shift mechanic can continue that work. No one goes home until everyone is on the same page as to the status of what is currently occuring.

Timely Group Decision-Making – USAirways’ Operations Command Center (OCC) controls and manages all flight operations for the world. The building was specifically engineered so that all work groups responsible for a particular flight operations responsibility (e.g., flight dispatch, maintenance control, pilot scheduling, etc.) can interact with one another on the same open office space. On the control floor, there are no closed offices so that everyone can easily move and interact with each other on the open control floor. Groups are given the ability to make decisions on-the-fly without lengthy approval processes and excessive supervisor scrutiny. In this manner, groups can quickly come up with a course of action to solve a particular problem, whether it’s a flight that needs to be rerouted because of a snowstorm, a plane that needs to be repaired, or passengers that need to be scheduled on another flight because of a cancellation.


Working with a Mission-Driven Purpose – Nowhere is a mission-drive purpose and teamwork evident than within the OCC and maintenance operations at USAirways: “The safety and satisfaction of our customers is a top priority for our airline…” It is clearly evident that all communication and teamwork centers on passenger safety. Numerous redundacies and plans are created so that all operations can always continue. Mechanics and inspectors all sign off on repairs as an accountability measure.  OCC employees quickly communicate with one another in order to resolve a problem so that passenger safety is never compromised. Working with the organization’s mission in mind sets the stage for how communication and teamwork must occur.

A special “Thank you!” goes out to USAirways for their gracious hospitality in allowing us to visit and see their operations.

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