Kalitta Air will be the first operator of the B-777-300ERSF. Dubbed “the Big Twin,” the aircraft, the product of a conversion program jointly funded by GE Capital Aviation Services and Israel Aerospace Industries, will be the largest-ever twin-engine freighter.
Due to steady demand for cargo shipping throughout the COVID-19 global crisis, Kalitta Air operations reached unprecedented heights. The company’s growth and the addition of seven B-777s coming to the global cargo carrier’s fleet is a game changer.
“The B-777 fleet continues to grow, and the routes are expanding,” observed Capt. Jeremy Keyes, the pilots’ Master Executive Council (MEC) chair. “It’s exciting to be a part of the airline during the launch of the B-777-300ERSF, a more fuel-efficient aircraft that will continue to keep Kalitta viable and competitive for years to come.” The airline expects to take delivery of the aircraft in spring 2023.
Dubbed “the Big Twin,” the new B-777-300ERSF features a 25 percent greater big-cargo volume capability than the similar B-777-200F. Designed specifically for long-haul flying, the Big Twin’s high-powered GE90 twin-engine burns 21 percent less fuel per ton than B-747-400 freighters, according to GE Capital Aviation Services, the Ireland-based company leasing the aircraft to Kalitta.
Kalitta currently operates an all-freighter fleet of 24 B-747-400s internationally and nine B-767-300s and five B-777s, which are dedicated to DHL flying.
During the onset of COVID-19, the carrier was the government’s early choice for pandemic response. Within 24 hours of a call from coordinating government officials, the company had retrofitted two B-747s for passengers, kicking off multiple federally funded evacuations and subsequent flights in a rush to transport masks, ventilators, and other medical necessities. Pilots operated under increased schedules to meet pandemic-related demands.
“We initially flew passengers from Wuhan, China, then from Japan, Europe, and Africa back to Canada and the United States,” said Keyes. “We operated an incredible number of flights at a time when other airlines were reducing operations. And we haven’t slowed down for the past two years.”
Along with the pandemic, the MEC also addressed the impact of COVID-19-related international policies on their pilots. Focused on protecting their colleagues flying through Hong Kong; Sydney, Australia; and other destinations where countries enforced strict COVID-19 regulations to prevent the spread of the virus, the MEC began earnest negotiations to support the pilots during these tense times.
The MEC negotiated a Lock-In Memorandum of Understanding with management, providing all pilots traveling to locations where they’d be isolated in their hotel rooms with 2.0 pay credit hours over their monthly pay guarantee for each occurrence, as well as other benefits and access to services. Additional safety agreements covered flying to mainland China and avoiding layovers there.
These negotiations came on the heels of Section 6 bargaining, which began in January 2020, just before the onset of the pandemic. The pilots ratified a new four-year agreement in February 2021 that provides improved retirement and quality-of life provisions.
More recently, the company issued a new COVID vaccine policy that raised significant concerns for the pilot group.
“We’re fighting for every crewmember,” said Keyes. “Kalitta is a diverse airline. Our pilots represent a wide variety of life experiences and beliefs. The Association will continue to demand the company negotiate over the effects and implementation of its vaccine mandate on the pilot group and fight to make certain our contract is enforced.”
When ALPA became the pilot group’s certified bargaining representative in February 2018, the airline had 350 pilots. As operations have continued to increase, the company’s recent rapid rate of hiring has boosted pilot numbers to 741, and Kalitta plans to hire for the foreseeable future. To match the growth of the pilot group, the MEC is implementing a new strategic plan and opening a Michigan MEC office.