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United-Continental can merge flights: court

A United Airlines plane with the Continental Airlines logo on its tail, taxis to the runway at O'Hare International airport in Chicago
A United Airlines plane with the Continental Airlines logo on its tail, taxis to the runway at O'Hare International airport in Chicago

(Reuters) - Pilots at United Airlines lost on Thursday in their bid to postpone the integration of flight operations with Continental Airlines, an essential step to completing the 2010 merger of the two carriers.

U.S. District Judge Sterling Johnson denied the request by the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA), the union representing United's pilots. Johnson said ALPA had failed to prove its claim that implementation of revised flight operation procedures on Friday would pose safety hazards.

The pilots' argument that the training shortfall would endanger the public was "too speculative" to justify pushing back the deadline, Johnson said in an eight-page ruling.

United bought Continental last year in a $3.17 billion all-stock deal to form United Continental Holdings Inc , the world's largest airline company. The two airlines continue to operate separately while they integrate operations.

ALPA this week asked the court for a stay of Friday's deadline to complete the next phase of training and begin new procedures. United and Continental planned to begin operating flights under a unified set of procedures, as the merged company seeks approval from the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration for a single operation certificate as soon as November.

The union said most of the training changes involve United pilots, who are adopting many of Continental's cockpit procedures. ALPA said its members lack proper training in the company's new procedures.

"We'll continue to proceed with our training procedures, which are widely used within the industry," United Continental spokeswoman Megan McCarthy said in an e-mailed statement. "The safety of our employees and customers is our highest priority."

United said on Monday that the suit was without merit and called it a shameful attempt to influence negotiations on a joint contract between United and Continental pilots.

United's ALPA chairman, Wendy Morse, said in a statement that she was disappointed with the ruling.

"We call on the company to once again delay the September 30 deadline in good faith, and work with the Air Line Pilots Association in establishing realistic, workable training for the United pilots to complete this training that is associated with the company's quest for a single operating certificate," Morse said.

The case is Air Line Pilots Association v. United Airlines Inc., in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York, no. 11-4661.

United Continental Shares were down 2.4 percent at $20.26 in afternoon trading on the New York Stock Exchange.

(Reporting by Jessica Dye in New York; Additional reporting by Kyle Peterson in Chicago; Editing by Richard Chang and Gerald E. McCormick)

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