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United Pilots: New Flying Procedures Could Be Dangerous

United Airlines Plane

(AP File Photo)

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CHICAGO (CBS) — The union representing United Airlines pilots is suing to prevent new flying procedures set to begin this Friday, saying they threaten safety.

As WBBM Newsradio’s Mike Krauser reports, pilots follow detailed directions for everything from who talks to air traffic control to which crewmembers assume various roles when something goes wrong.

LISTEN: WBBM Newsradio’s Mike Krauser reports

Pilots from two different airlines might follow different procedures.

The issue came up at United because of its recent merger with Continental Airlines. Most of the new procedures come from Continental, and the United pilots say they are being asked to absorb a 1,300 page training manual without classroom instruction.

Wendy Morse, the head of the pilot union at United and a 777 captain, said pilots watched a computer-based slide show that lasts 54 minutes, and that some pilots have been designated to answer questions from fellow aviators. But pilots have gotten no classroom instruction or other training in the new procedures, she said.

One problem, they say, is the new rule for the use of autopilot to get out of severe wind. United pilots get out of such conditions manually.

“I think United pilots will continue to be pretty uncomfortable allowing the autopilot to get out of a wind shear situation when they’re close to the ground and about to hit it,” she said.

Other changes include the terms that pilots use to update each other and air traffic controllers on their progress toward landing, and whether the captain or the first officer turns off the landing light after landing.

No single change would be difficult, she said, but “there’s a whole plethora of changes in a row, and one on top of another, and that is what’s creating the angst. Our guys are not comfortable because of a whole list of those kinds of things,” she said.

Eighty percent of the procedures that will be used by the combined work group come from Continental, Morse said. Continental pilots, who belong to a separate unit inside the Air Line Pilots Association, were not involved in the court case.

Airline spokeswoman Julie King called the court filing “a shameful effort to influence negotiations for a joint collective bargaining agreement, under a false guise of safety.” She said its training procedures are approved and monitored by the Federal Aviation Administration.

Morse said the filing has nothing to do with contract negotiations.

United and Continental pilots still have separate union contracts. They have been negotiating for a joint contract with parent company United Continental Holdings Inc.

The company is aiming to get a single operating certificate from the FAA by the end of the year, and harmonizing flying procedures is one part of that. The two companies merged last year.

(TM and © Copyright 2011 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS Radio and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2011 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)