ATLANTA (AP) -- Delta Air Lines Inc. and Northwest Airlines Corp., squeezed by record high fuel prices and a slowing economy, are combining in a stock-swap deal that would create the world's biggest carrier.
The boards of both companies gave the deal the go-ahead Monday.
The announcement could spur other airline combinations. The most likely scenario that has been talked about is a potential deal between United and Continental airlines.
Under the terms of the Delta transaction, Northwest shareholders will receive 1.25 Delta shares for each Northwest share they own. The exchange ratio represents a premium to Northwest shareholders of 16.8 percent based on Monday's closing stock prices.
That currently values Northwest at almost $3.63 billion based on 277 million Northwest shares that the companies said are outstanding.
Delta said the combined airline, which will be called Delta, will have an enterprise value of $17.7 billion, which includes the combined market values of the two companies and combined net debt. It will be based in Atlanta, and Delta CEO Richard Anderson will head the combined company.
Delta Chairman Daniel Carp will become chairman of the new board of directors and Northwest Chairman Roy Bostock will become vice chairman. Delta President and Chief Financial Officer Ed Bastian will retain his titles.
The new board will be made up of 13 members, seven of whom will come from Delta's board, including Anderson, and five of whom will come from Northwest's board, including Bostock and Doug Steenland, the current Northwest CEO. One director will come from the Air Line Pilots Association, the union that represents pilots from both carriers. Anderson told reporters on a conference call it will be a Delta pilot holding the voting seat.
"We are confident the transaction will go forward and be approved," Steenland said.
There will be an unspecified number of job cuts or transfers through the consolidation of overlapping corporate and administrative functions, Delta said. The two airlines employ more than 80,000 people combined. The company expects no involuntary furloughs of front-line employees and said the existing pension plans for both companies' employees will be protected.
Delta doesn't plan to close any of the two airlines' hubs.
Delta also said that it has agreed with its pilot leadership to extend its existing collective bargaining agreement through the end of 2012. The agreement, which is subject to pilot ratification, will allow the combined company to realize the revenue synergies of the transaction, Delta said. It also provides the Delta pilots a 3.5 percent equity stake in the new company and other enhancements to their current contract.
The agreement does not cover Northwest pilots.
Delta said it will use its best efforts to reach a combined Delta-Northwest pilot agreement, including resolution of pilot seniority integration, prior to the closing of the merger.
U.S.-based non-pilot employees of both companies will get a 4 percent equity stake in the new airline when the deal closes, Delta said.
Northwest pilots and the union representing most of Northwest's ground workers immediately announced they would fight the combination.
Dave Stevens, chairman of the Northwest branch of the Air Line Pilots Association, said in a prepared statement, "The risk to Northwest Airlines and to the Northwest pilot group from letting this merger proceed, as it is now structured, is simply too great."
Northwest didn't consult with the union that represents its baggage handlers, ramp workers and ticket agents, said Joseph Tiberi, a spokesman for the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers.
"If the airline wanted the support of their employees they should have brought us in and discussed it with us earlier," he said.
Lee Moak, head of Delta's pilots union, said Delta hopes cooler heads will prevail.
"It takes two to fight," Moak told The Associated Press. "We don't see a fight here. We see a cooperative relationship with the Northwest pilots to bring everybody to parity as soon as possible."
The two pilots unions were unable to agree on integrating seniority lists before the combination was announced. A joint contract they had reached was never consummated.
The announcement comes a year after the two carriers emerged from Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. Both carriers are losing money again but are in much better shape than the four much-smaller airlines that have filed for bankruptcy or gone out of business in recent weeks.
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