New United to fly as Continental after all

Merging two airlines together requires a lot more than just slapping a new name on all the airplanes and updating the marketing slicks. On the operational side there are a number of steps that must be undertaken, many of which are regulated by the FAA. The merging of the operational certificates is a major component of the merger process and Continental announced to its employees yesterday just what the new operating certificate situation would be following the merger with United Airlines.


The planes will say “United” on the outside, but the pilots might just be saying “Continental” when they call in to Air Traffic Control as the new combined carrier will be keeping the Continental operating certificate according to the daily internal news update sent to employees of both companies on Wednesday:

We have decided that the merged airline will retain the legacy Continental operating certificate and the legacy United repair station certificate. This was a technical decision based on a variety of factors.

In addition to this change, Continental and its Continental Micronesia subsidiary will be combining their operations under a singe certificate in the immediate future to facilitate the eventual integration with United.

From a customer perspective moves such as this don’t really make much of a difference. The same people will be doing the same work and the planes will all fly the same. It is also not an unprecedented move. When America West and US Airways merged they kept the the America West “CACTUS” call sign with their merged operating certificate.

UPDATE (12:23pm EDT) – I finally got my hands on a copy of the internal memo and got some additional details regarding the reasoning behind the certificate selections. Here’s the pertinent section:

Both the UA and CO certificates contain unique attributes that will be preserved following integration. CO’s Part 121 Certificate has enhanced technology authorizations and close conformity to current FAA standard language. UA’s Part 145 Repair Station Certificate enables increased maintenance capabilities, enhanced repair station authorizations and more maintenance volume when compared with CO’s 145 Certificate.

In other words, there are lots of details behind the scenes, but this is the best way to move forward for the new company to have the best chance at success. Not much of a surprise there at all.

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Seth Miller

I'm Seth, also known as the Wandering Aramean. I was bit by the travel bug 30 years ago and there's no sign of a cure. I fly ~200,000 miles annually; these are my stories. You can connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.


  1. I don’t think Operating certificate has anything to do with an airline’s callsign. At least according to the the wiki when America West and US Airways merged the US Airways certificate survived, but the callsign that survived was as you said “Cactus” and the ICAO code was “AME.”

    Here’s the link to the wiki:

  2. Interesting. Assuming Ch 9 stays, it’ll be weird to be listening for Continental instead of United! If Ch 9 goes away, moot (or mute or moo) point.

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