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Dec. 15, 2012 at 1:48 PM
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United pilots approve new contract

CHICAGO, Dec. 15 (UPI) -- Members of the Air Line Pilots Association approved a new contract Saturday with Chicago-based United Airlines that gives them better pay, the union said.

The union said most of its 10,000 eligible members participated in the vote, with the contract ratified by a 2-1 margin, the Chicago Tribune reported. Union officials said the four-year pact improves pay, benefits and work rules.

The contract is the first since United merged with Continental in 2010.

"The era of bankruptcy and concessionary contracts is now over," union leaders said in a statement. "For too long, the pilots of United and Continental have had to shoulder more than their share of the burden as our respective airlines struggled through the difficult economic times of the past decade. We now stand ready to embark on a fresh start for the pilots and the airline."

Fred Abbott, a United senior vice president for flight operations, called the contract "an important step forward" for both sides.

Pilots have been working without a contract and had taken a preliminary strike vote. The union and company agreed to a preliminary deal with a mediator in August but then spent several months working out the details.

Ford challenges hybrid testing

DEARBORN, Mich., Dec. 15 (UPI) -- A U.S. automobile executive said Ford Motor Company was reviewing vehicle mileage tests in the wake of a challenge to ratings listed for two hybrid cars.

Automobile companies test their own fuel efficiency following federal procedures. But last week, Consumer Reports said it found the mileage ratings listed for the Ford C-Max hybrid wagon and the Fusion hybrid to be well off the mark.

The C-Max, tested by the consumer magazine, achieved 37 miles per gallon, ten miles per gallon less than what was on the sticker.

Consumer Reports said the Fusion achieved 39 mpg. It is also listed as able to achieve 47 mpg in fuel efficiency.

Although an Environmental Protection Agency spokesperson declined to comment on whether it was discussing the tests with automakers, Ford's global product chief Raj Nair said, "We are working closely with industry to see if we need to change our hybrid testing procedures," The Wall Street Journal reported.

Nair said mileage testing for hybrids was far trickier than testing a conventional gasoline-powered engine due to the many variables that come into play.

The expression, "your mileage may differ," is particularly true for hybrids, Nair said.

The variables include how fast a driver accelerates and what speed is maintained. The temperature outside also changes mileage for cars using battery power, he said.

Fuel efficiency can also change depending on how many of the miles are driven on a highway and how many are driven under city conditions, the same as gas-powered cars. However, for hybrids it also depends how many of the highway miles were driven with the batteries running.

If the batteries run first with the gasoline engine kicking in as electric power wanes, then a hybrid would get higher efficiency going from highway driving in the first part of a trip to city driving in the second part than it would if it traveled in the city first and on a highway second.

Testing by Ford, following EPA recommendations, was done on stationary machine that simulates highway and city conditions. Consumer Reports, on the other hand, hits the road, testing cars on rolling hills, holding to a steady 65 mph when it tests cars on highways.

Walmart goes low with iPhone prices

BENTONVILLE, Ark., Dec. 15 (UPI) -- Walmart says it will sell older generation iPhones for rock bottom prices this holiday season.

Other retail giants, such as Best Buy and Radio Shack are also offering substantial discounts, but Walmart appears to have them beat, CNNMoney reported Saturday.

Walmart said it is selling the 15 GB iPhone 4 for $47, a $40 break for customers who also buy a two-year service contract.

Older generation iPhones, the hand-held iPods and the larger iPads can also be found for discount prices. Apple listed iPods and iPads for up to $40 off at their retail outlets on Black Friday this year.

Walmart, which may be motivated by a desire to clear their shelves of older generation merchandise, said their sale was on a first-come, first-serve basis. They would not be taking orders for phones at those prices when they run out, Walmart said.

Walmart said it will sell the 16 GB iPhone 5 for $127, about $60 off the normal price. It is sold with a two-year contract.


Fitch warns France on AAA credit rating

BRUSSELS, Dec. 15 (UPI) -- Credit firm Fitch Ratings said it would not downgrade France's AAA rating, but said next year might be a different story.

Two of the big three credit rating firms, Moody's and Standard and Poor's, have already lowered the country's rating, which could affect its borrowing costs, Radio France Internationale reported Saturday.

French President Francois Hollande said policies would not change. "We hear what's being said but we do not decide our policies according to one agency or another, we decide it according to the interests of France," he said following a two-day summit in Brussels.

Fitch, however, warned that, "the negative outlook is expected to be resolved during 2013 and indicates a slightly greater than 50 percent chance of a downgrade," The Wall Street Journal reported.

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