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United, Continental Pilots Extend Contract Talks

Pilots at United Airlines and Continental Airlines agreed to a two-month extension in talks to reach a contract with their newly merged carrier before seeking help from federal mediators.

“The parties have made sufficient progress that we believe it is in the best interest of our pilots to continue direct negotiations,” Jay Pierce, chairman of the Continental pilots union, said today in an e-mail.

The Air Line Pilots Association groups at each airline said in July they would ask the National Mediation Board to join the discussions if an accord wasn’t reached by Oct. 12 with United Continental Holdings Inc., the carriers’ parent company. Pierce said pilot leaders delayed seeking such help until Dec. 17.

United Continental is working to move all work groups to unified contracts by the time it receives a single operating certificate in about a year. Having one labor accord for each group should reduce duplication and costs at the Chicago-based airline.

Julie King, a United Continental spokeswoman, said in an e-mail today that the company is “working closely” with the pilots association to reach an agreement “that is fair to our pilots and fair to the company.”

Pushing back a decision to involve mediators “provides the company an opportunity to accelerate the process consistent with its original goal of an expedited contract,” Wendy Morse, the pilot union chairman at United, said in an e-mail.

The pilots and airline management have agreed in principle on 6 of 25 sections in the contract since starting talks Aug. 10, according to the union, the only labor group at United Continental in negotiations on a joint accord.

UAL Corp.’s United and Continental Airlines Inc. closed their stock-swap merger on Oct. 1 to create the world’s largest airline. United and Continental will operate separately until cleared by U.S. regulators to fly as one carrier.

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