MINNEAPOLIS — The CEOs of United Airlines and US Airways have both been up front about their desire to merge with another airline. Now it appears they’re talking to each other, the Associated Press reports.

The two are in talks about a combination that would create the nation’s second-biggest airline, a person with knowledge of the situation told The Associated Press on Wednesday. The person insisted on anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the talks, which the person said appear to be getting more serious.

This person said a deal would be modeled on the Delta-Northwest combination, which was a stock swap without a cash component.

United Chairman and CEO Glenn Tilton and US Airways Chairman and CEO Doug Parker were both involved when their companies talked about combining in 2008. They walked away then citing high fuel prices, but didn’t rule out a future deal. That same year, Continental Airlines Inc. rejected United’s attempt at a combination.

“We don’t comment on rumors or speculation,” United spokeswoman Jean Medina said Wednesday. “We’ve been consistent on our position on consolidation generally for several years, and that position is well known.”

US Airways spokesman Jim Olson also said the airline doesn’t comment on rumors.

Integrating their unionized work forces would be one of the most difficult tasks if United Airlines and US Airways got together. The person who spoke to AP said the companies have a plan for dealing with that issue.

US Airways, which is based in Tempe, Ariz., still runs separate pilot and flight attendant groups after it was bought in 2005 by America West. And its pilots formed their own union after leaving the Air Line Pilots Association, the union that represents United aviators.

Executives at Delta and Northwest put their deal on hold in early 2008 so their pilots could work out an agreement on combining their ranks.

Pilots at US Airways have not been involved in any talks with United, said James Ray, a spokesman for the US Airline Pilots Association.

“We’ll support anything that would be good for our pilot group,” he said.

A spokesman for the United branch of the Air Line Pilots Association did not immediately return a phone message seeking comment.

“Mergers in the airline business are notoriously difficult,” said Doug Abbey, an independent airline consultant in Washington. He added, though, that Delta’s purchase of Northwest has gone well.

“The discussions certainly wouldn’t surprise me,” he said. “This is a combination that has been embraced as plausible by a lot of people.”

Based on 2009 traffic, a combined United-US Airways would be nearly as big as Delta Air Lines Inc., which became the world’s largest airline after buying Northwest. It is unclear which name would survive, where the combined company would be based, or who would run it.

Like Northwest before it, one of United’s main attractions is its Pacific routes, which it bought from Pan-Am in 1985.

Both airlines have been shrinking to cope with the recession. United cut capacity 7.4 percent last year, while US Airways shrank 4.6 percent. US Airways is cutting most flying that doesn’t pass through either Washington or its hubs in Charlotte, N.C., Philadelphia, or Phoenix.

US Airways lost $205 million in 2009, and revenue fell almost 14 percent to $10.46 billion. UAL lost $651 million, while revenue fell 19.1 percent to $16.34 billion.

Shares US Airways rose $1.39, or 20.4 percent, to $8.21 in after-hours trading Wednesday. United parent UAL Corp. fell 18 cents to $18.77.

(The preceding report by Joshua Freed was distributed April 8, 2010, by the Associated Press.)

By UTU Assistant President Arty Martin

Fatigue is a serious problem for pilots and flight attendants. Flight attendants additionally are without protections afforded under the 1970 Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA).

The UTU, working with the Transportation Trades Department of the AFL-CIO, as well as the Air Line Pilots Association and the Association of Flight Attendants, is focused on both of these issues on behalf of UTU’s airline industry members.

Current Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regulations permit lengthy and irregular shifts across multiple time zones. There are numerous instances of flight crews being given only eight hours of rest between shifts, and that includes travel to and from the airline terminal, which frequently permits as few as three to five hours of actual sleep.

As we know too well in the railroad industry — and as has been documented by sleep scientists at major universities — going to work fatigued is like going to work drunk. The difference is that an intoxicated person sobers up; but a fatigued transportation worker only becomes more fatigued.

Federal regulation and enforcement is needed, and additional help is on the way with the recent confirmation by the Senate of former airline pilot Randy Babbitt to be the federal aviation administrator. Prior to his nomination by President Obama to head the FAA, Babbitt served on an independent review team examining and making recommendations to improve the FAA’s aviation safety system.

In fact, Babbitt said in June that the FAA will propose, by fall, new limits on how many hours airline pilots can fly. Babbitt said the new limits will take into consideration that pilots flying routes with numerous takeoffs and landings experience more fatigue than pilots on longer flights with only one takeoff and landing.

Current FAA regulations permit pilots to be on duty up to 16 hours, with eight hours of scheduled flight time, and airlines can order them back to work with as few as eight hours between shifts.

The February crash of a commuter plane near Buffalo, N.Y., which killed 50 people, gives greater urgency to revising aviation hours-of-service rules because it was determined that the co-pilot of the doomed flight commuted overnight from near Seattle.

Babbitt said, also, that he wants airlines — including commuter carriers — to participate in two safety programs studying airline safety.

As for flight attendants, they are currently under FAA safety-rules jurisdiction rather than OSHA rules. Yet, the FAA has never prescribed or enforced safety and health standards or regulations, which are the core of OSHA regulations. The administration of George H.W. Bush refused to impose specific workplace protections in the aircraft cabin that had been informally agreed to by airlines.

So it is that the UTU, the AFL-CIO Transportation Trades Department, the Air Line Pilots Association and the Association of Flight Attendants are working jointly in support of legislation requiring the FAA to establish regulations to provide a cabin environment free from hazards that can cause physical harm.

It is expected that Babbitt will move to set such rules, although legislation would ensure they could not be tampered with by future administrations less concerned with workplace safety.