United We Own

Employee ownership is working at the airline. Can it travel?

Long ladders don't seem to have much to do with saving jet fuel. But when United Airlines Inc. brought together its pilots, ramp workers, and managers for the first time to brainstorm about fuel conservation, the answer was just that simple. The idea was to use electricity instead of jet fuel to power planes idling at gates. But ramp workers couldn't plug cables into the aircraft because their ladders were often too short. "In the past, we would have sent out an edict and nothing would have changed," says Robert M. Sturtz, United's top fuel administrator. "We were finally able to extract what the real problem was." Now, equipped with taller ladders, the carrier will save $20 million in fuel costs this year.

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