Andy Buchanan and his team find new ways to connect planes and places to bring customers the world
Author A. Averyl Re
ANDY BUCHANAN MIGHT WELL BE one of the wizards of United Airlines, with a job that takes a little art, a little science and perhaps even a little alchemy to turn information and aircraft capabilities into a win-win for United and its customers. As director of international network planning, he works with his team to determine what the airline’s international route structure should look like—now and in the future.
“Every time that United adds a new international route, the decision comes out of our area,” Buchanan explains. “We basically determine what routes the airline should be flying, what routes it shouldn’t be flying, how many times a day it should provide service on each route and which aircraft should fly on each route.”
When Buchanan and his team consider new routes, they start with data—lots of data. They work in conjunction with departments such as Cargo, Pricing and Revenue Management, Sales and Fleet Planning to determine a route’s appeal to customers—and potential customers. “At the end of the day, we’re forecasting for something that we’ve never done. We have to apply our best judgment to any market change based on our years of experience doing this.”
Buchanan says the introduction of the Boeing 787 Dreamliner to the United fleet brings many new possibilities in terms of the routes he and his team can consider. The plane has a seating capacity similar to that of a Boeing 767, but with the ability to fly the longer routes of the larger Boeing 777—a combination that enables United to serve routes that were never economically feasible before.
“The 787 fills a role in our fleet that no other plane today does,” he says, explaining that the aircraft enables United to fly routes, such as Los Angeles-Shanghai, that need long-range aircraft, but not necessarily larger aircraft year-round. “Over time we’re going to be able to better match up capacity with demand as it varies from season to season.”
The 787 not only permits more efficient service on existing routes, but also allows United to consider new service, Buchanan says. “We always try to figure out what we can do with our planes to produce the best opportunity for our customers and our company. A route that we looked at last year but didn’t have enough demand for might work this year with the 787. The time might be right because the aircraft is right.”
The recently announced Denver-Tokyo route is a perfect example, he says. “That market was on our radar screen for a while, and the people of Denver cried out for that route, but we didn’t have the right plane for it. Now we have 787s coming, and they’ve got the right capacity.”
Buchanan grew up in Birmingham, Mich., in a family with a bent for “planes, trains and automobiles,” he says. His father worked for General Motors and his brother works for the Canadian National Railroad. Buchanan had an interest in the airline industry, which led him to pursue a degree in aviation management at Auburn University. He also married into the transportation industry after meeting his future wife, Monica, at United several years ago.
Buchanan began at the airline in Revenue Management, where he got a chance to see and become intrigued by network planning. Since moving over to that department 12 years ago, he’s gotten hooked. He says his personal interest in travel also keeps him invested in the results of his work.
“A lot of people in the department tend to be travelers. It’s part of the makeup of those who get attracted to network planning. I’m one of those people, although I don’t travel as much today as I used to.”
Still, that curiosity about destinations and love of travel helps Buchanan appreciate the importance of planning those just-right routes for customers and for the airline.