United Airlines Mechanics Embrace Lean

One of the key elements on my American Lean Weekday podcast is the weekly interviews that I conduct with companies on their Lean Journey.  These companies are from various industries and are all sizes.  I have interviewed leaders from family-owned businesses to multi-national organizations.  You can find the podcast here.  It is episode one hundred and seven of the American Lean Weekday podcast.

United Airlines has been on their Lean journey since at least 2004.  This is an interview with a retired United mechanic who shares his experience with all of us and how United Airlines mechanics embraced Lean as far back as 2004.  He has been fortunate in that he trained hundreds of United Airlines mechanics after he was in the initial wave of training.


Larry Reece was in the original wave of 3500 mechanics trained by United in Lean methodologies.  The training occurred over 18 months.  Since Lean made sense to him he volunteered to be on the Core team.

The core team branched out to other areas where the maintenance activities were occurring and provided training and coaching for other mechanics.  Larry was fortunate he was able to train hundreds of employees in Lean and later Six Sigma Green Belt training.

These are some key points taken from my interview with Larry Reece retired airline mechanic.

  1. “People were reluctant at first to embrace Lean since we weren’t manufacturing anything.  It’s maintenance, it won’t apply here.  We had to work hard to overcome that mindset.  After we are United Airlines mechanics.”
  2. “We moved to a model where the mechanic was treated more like a surgeon. It gave them everything they needed to do the job.  Their frustration went down.  Airplanes are big.  If mechanics don’t have to wait or get their tools, they can be more productive.”
  3. “Some of the biggest struggles were within the middle management ranks.  We were a ground-up organization.  We had Director support, and he clarified that this is the way we would do business”
  4. “Originally the lead time to get a plane back into service was four days. Because of the changes we made, we reduced that to three days.  There had to be a learning curve on both sides.  We would have the plane ready to go into service and the mechanics would see it still on the tarmac.  Originally the airline didn’t believe us when we said it would be ready in three days and they could take it back.  After a while, they believed us.”
  5. “Teams always have the best ideas. I’ve never come up with ideas that are better than what the team came up with.  Listen to the people on the floor and doing the work every day.  They have the best ideas.”
  6. “Train everyone in the company on Lean topics so they can speak the same language.”

As always, it is an honor to serve you and I hope that you and your company are getting better every day!

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