Continental Airlines and United Airlines have cleared a major hurdle in their proposed merger by inking a transition agreement with their pilots.

The two carriers announced today they have reached an agreement in principle with their pilots on transitioning to a merged entity. They say the deal "provides a framework for pilot operations of the two groups until the carriers' operating certificates are combined".

Pilot integration is often a major challenge to US airline mergers. Less than a month ago pilots at the two carriers announced talks with the respective management teams of each carrier had ended without reaching a transition agreement.

A transition agreement is the first step the two pilot groups must complete in achieving an integrated seniority list and a joint collective bargaining agreement. Continental and United pilots are both represented by the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA).

United CEO Glenn Tilton calls the agreement "an important step forward that reflects the hard work and collaborative dialogue required to reach this transition agreement that is in the best interest of our new company and our pilots".

Continental CEO Jeff Smisek adds: "We are pleased to have reached this important agreement at such an early stage of the integration planning process, as it is a key first step in building a long-term, productive relationship between the combined company and our pilots. We will continue to focus on working together with all of our work groups to reach agreements that are fair to our employees and fair to the company."

Continental and United expect to close their merger in the fourth quarter of this year.

Source: Air Transport Intelligence news