- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 25, 2007

NEW YORK (AP) — A federal bankruptcy judge yesterday approved a Delta Air Lines plan to exit bankruptcy after the nation’s third-largest airline spent nearly 20 months in a wrenching reorganization effort that cut 6,000 jobs and slashed $3 billion in costs.

Atlanta-based Delta Air Lines Inc. expects to emerge from court protection Monday. The company estimates it will be worth $9.4 billion to $12 billion. Delta has reduced labor costs, restructured its fleet and terminated a pilots pension plan.

More than 95 percent of creditors voted to endorse the plan for Delta to leave bankruptcy as a stand- alone carrier. That plan had been put in jeopardy by a $9.8 billion hostile takeover bid last fall by Tempe, Ariz.-based US Airways Group Inc. Delta successfully persuaded creditors to back its blueprint to emerge from bankruptcy and reject the buyout offer.

Now that it is leaving court protection, Delta may sell off its regional carrier subsidiary, Erlanger, Ky.-based Comair, which has received poor marks for lost baggage and flight delays.

Delta’s board can also choose a successor to Chief Executive Officer Gerald Grinstein, who plans to retire. Mr. Grinstein, who is 74, has said the two leading internal candidates are Chief Financial Officer Ed Bastian and Chief Operating Officer James Whitehurst.

Delta will celebrate its recovery Monday in Atlanta. Shares in the reorganized Delta, with the ticker symbol DAL, are scheduled to begin trading again Wednesday on the New York Stock Exchange.

Delta’s reorganization plan will give unsecured creditors between 62 percent and 78 percent of the value of their allowed claims as shares of new Delta stock.

The company’s existing stock, which will be worthless, continued to trade until the court’s approval of the plan. The shares fell 3.5 cents, or 21.2 percent, yesterday to 13 cents.

Since January 2001, the company has lost a total of more than $18 billion. In recent months, though, Delta’s financial situation has improved, with the company projecting a 2007 pretax profit of $816 million, excluding special charges and reorganization costs.

Delta entered Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection on Sept. 14, 2005, amid high fuel prices and the burdens of soaring labor and retirement benefits expenses.

Since then, passengers on all airlines have experienced increasing flight delays as staffs are trimmed and fares go up, driven by rising fuel costs. While in bankruptcy, Delta had expanded its international flights and will continue nurturing that part of the business by focusing on John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York.

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