United pilots link poor training to near-mishaps

United Airlines planes are seen on the tarmac at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport May 25, 2010. AFP/Getty Images

CHICAGO - Pilots at United Airlines say that poor training is causing safety problems, including three flights that almost landed without putting their wheels down.

United pilots are learning new procedures for flying their planes, which can be a big adjustment. The United branch of the Air Line Pilots Association released a 105-page report on safety issues on Tuesday.

The union has said the airline is training pilots with computer slideshows instead of practicing in a simulator or with classroom time.

The report comes at a time when the pilots are in difficult contract talks with United, although they have said their safety concerns have nothing to do with the negotiations.

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The company said the union's claims are baseless and part of an attempt to influence contract negotiations. It said the union "has a history of taking steps to disrupt the operations of the airline."

The report said pilots on two flights were so distracted by the new procedures that an alarm went off just seconds before landing, indicating that they had not yet put down the wheels. A third incident was prevented when pilots noticed the mistake. The union said such incidents usually are rare.

The report also said that three other crews were so distracted as they tried to complete their new after-landing checklists that they taxied onto or across runways without permission from air traffic controllers.

The report also accused United of rushing to get its single operating certificate from the Federal Aviation Administration, which would mean that the United and Continental operations are merged into a single airline. Their parent company, United Continental Holdings Inc., said on Tuesday that it still expects to achieve that milestone by the end of this year.

In September the union tried to get a judge to block the new training procedures. The judge declined, saying that there was no evidence that the FAA was not doing its job monitoring safety.

Shares of Chicago-based United Continental fell 32 cents to close at $17.90.

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