SAN FRANCISCO — United Airlines’ San Francisco (SFO) Maintenance Center is celebrating its 70th anniversary this year. The vast 125-acre facility consists of 2.9 million square feet of working space ranging from airframe hangars to component and engine overhaul shops.

Opened in 1948, United Airlines San Francisco Maintenance Base is celebrating 70th  anniversary this year.

The SFO Maintenance Center hosts aircraft performers from the San Francisco Fleet Week airshow for many years. 

This celebration of U.S. Navy’s might is a highlight event for many San Francisco Bay Area residents every Columbus Day weekend. 

United hosts many airshow performers at its Maintenance Base during San Francisco Fleet Week, including this beautiful Lockheed T-33 Shooting Star “Ace Maker II” with pilot Gregory “Wired” Colyer.

United uses this opportunity to showcase the facility to their 14,000 local employees, their families and guests.

United President Scott Kirby described San Francisco as “a crown jewel for United Airlines.”

He continued, “it is important not only to United Airlines, but it is also important to the economy here in San Francisco.”

United President Scott Kirby has a personal connection to San Francisco. His father-in-law worked on the ramp at SFO 42 years ago.

The airlines’ worldwide connectivity is “critical to the underpinnings and supports (everything) that happens in Silicon Valley and San Francisco”.

Chix Fix

One of the highlights was the appearance of the Chix Fix team.  This all-women technician team participated in the 2018 Aerospace Maintenance Competition (AMC).

This competition can be best described as an aircraft mechanic’s decathlon. 

Over a two day period, teams compete in maintenance skill challenges in 28 categories such as avionics, hydraulics, and engine troubleshooting. 

Each event is timed at 15 minutes and the team that finishes in the shortest time with least penalties is declared the winner. 

United’s history-making all-women mechanic competition team “Chix Fix” poses in front of the enormous GE90-115B engine used on the Boeing 777-300ER.

To make the contest fair, each team competes against their peers appropriate to their segment of the aerospace industry: commercial airlines, general aviation, military, repair and manufacturing, school, and space.

A total of 68 teams from around the world competed at AMC this past April, including four teams from United Airlines. 

Team United won a total of 10 events and the Cleveland Team claimed the title of overall winner second year in a row!

United’s all-women Chix Fix team was the first ever all-female airline team to compete at AMC. 

Chix Fix team captain Bonnie Turner, United Managing Director Airframe Overhaul and Repair, said, “it’s so important for us to show young girls and women that this is a career option for them. 

Being an aircraft technician has been traditionally very male-dominated…we want to bring a message to the aerospace industry that this can be a career for women”.

By participating in AMC, it showcases their “skill and talent as a technician – and speed – with safety being number one.”

The six-technician (five plus one alternate) Chix Fix team hailed from five stations around the United system. 

Each technician was personally selected by their supervisor.  They did not know each other prior to joining the team, so they trained together for about five weeks before the competition.

Aviation Mechanics Competition (AMC) Airbus Category II/III Certification Test winner Janelle Bendt (left) explains her experience during the event while team coach Bonnie Turner (right) looks on.

Despite not knowing each other, Denver Aircraft Maintenance Technician Janelle Bendt said, “we all got along well…(it was) so much fun!”  Ms. Bendt won an individual event: Airbus Category II/III Certification Test. 

The challenge consisted of performing a series of tests from the flight deck – looking indicators and responses from faults.  It is “unheard of” for first-time competitors to win in a challenge, gushed team captain, Ms. Turner.

She went on and explained, “it is difficult to place if you don’t understand the pressure of the competition”.

Describing the difference between real-life and competitive maintenance, Ms. Bendt was shrewd: they were “a lot different…but fun.”

She offered this advice to women trying to break into this (or any) male-dominated job field, “it’s nothing that women can’t do, so they shouldn’t be afraid of it…if you want to learn and you want to help and participate…most of the guys treat you equally with respect.  What you put into you will get out.”


United Technical Operations perform many services at the SFO Maintenance Center. 

One of which is the detailed maintenance inspection check.  Inside one of many aircraft bays in the vast hangar complex, we got a close look at a Boeing 737-900ER undergoing a C-Check. 

United 737-900ER N69847 is seen undergoing C-Check inside a hangar bay at the airline’s SFO Maintenance Base.

This check is scheduled every 18 months and it takes from 10 to 12 days to complete.  During this arduous inspection, the aircraft is surrounded by scaffoldings, with most access panels opened and control surfaces deployed.

Inside aircraft number 0847, Maintenance Supervisor Scott Tran showed some of the activities performed during a C-Check. 

The forward galley has been removed to allow access to the flight deck bulkhead wiring for iPad Electronic Flight Bag installation.

Akin to peeling back layers of an onion, what seemed simple tasks are actually quite involved. 

For example, the installation of iPad Electronic Flight Bags in the flight deck required access to the wiring behind the forward galley hence necessitating the removal of the galley.

The center fuselage receives a great deal of stress due to the location of the landing gear.  Technicians look for defects and repair when necessary. 

Another, inspection of the centre fuel tank and the centre structure, necessitated the removal of the floorboards and seats from the mid cabin.

The bottom line – do the job right the first time.  Ms Tuner emphasized, “every time an aircraft is in maintenance…it costs money.  Our goal is…to make sure when it goes out, it stays flying for another 18 months without breaking”

During the 2018 Fleet Week Airshow, United Airlines 777-300ER performed maneuvers seldom seen with an airliner, low over San Francisco landmarks to boot!

Ms. Tuner summed it up perfectly, “Aircraft technicians are in the business for one reason and one reason only – the safety of flying – to ensure our aircraft across the world are safe”.

The Chix Fix Team competing in the Aviation Mechanics Competition this year.  (Photo:  United Airlines)

At the end of day, it is the “joy of watching (airplanes) takeoff knowing that the systems are top notch”.