United Continental Holdings President and CEO Jeffery Smisek yesterday sharply dismissed claims by United pilots that training procedures they are being forced to adopt are compromising safety.

“This is purely an industrial relations issue,” he told a large gathering of aviation professionals at the Wings Club in New York City. “A few members of the [pilots union] are crossing a line that is shameful.”

The Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA) has prepared a 101-page report criticizing United for neglecting classroom work and flight simulation training to supplement computer-based training in preparation for obtaining a single operating certificate. As Continental and United align their practices, changes in cockpit procedures will affect United pilots the most.

Smisek rejected any suggestion that the FAA-approved training is reducing safety margins, and said that the complaints are nothing more than the grumblings of a small handful of union members.

But a 22-year veteran pilot and union member who was in the audience disputed Smisek, stating that indeed there were legitimate complaints about the training procedures United is using and deserved attention. “This is not just the union leadership” raising the issue, he told Smisek. “We can do the new procedures, but we are not getting the step training we need.”

The problem, he explained, is that he and other pilots are being given large manuals, and basically having to absorb the material on their own, without the benefit of an instructor or time in a flight simulator that provide the feedback needed as part of the learning process.