Officials of Pan American World Airways and Delta Air Lines are discussing a possible merger, an airline official said Thursday.

Confirming a report in The Wall Street Journal, the official said Delta officials met with Pan Am Chairman Thomas Plaskett Wednesday at Pan Am headquarters to discuss a move that would broaden Delta's area of operation while saving Pan Am from liquidation. The official spoke on condition of anonymity.Delta is the nation's third largest carrier while Pan Am is the sixth largest.

Delta spokesman Neil Monroe said Delta declined comment on the report. Pan Am spokeswoman Elizabeth Hlinko said Pan Am had no comment Thursday morning.

Pan Am, one of the oldest and best-known names in the airline business, has been operating under federal bankruptcy law protection since January because of tremendous debts, high costs and a dropoff in business.

Delta requested the meeting with top Pan Am management to examine financial data, the airline official said Thursday. He said Delta officials met last week with Pan Am's pilots union.

Pan Am pilots have reportedly been seeking a merger partner for the airline, talking with several healthy carriers.

The chairman of the Pan Am pilots, Richard Burke, was not immediately available Thursday morning, according to a receptionist in his Miami office.

There are several obstacles to a combination of Delta and Pan Am, including Pan Am's underfunded pension plan, its high labor costs and its leased fleet.

In addition, Pan Am is unionized while Delta is non-union except for its pilots. Delta owns most of its jets.

A merger could make Delta the largest carrier in the country, flying to more than 300 cities compared with 208 currently.