ATLANTA When Delta Air Lines' board of directors holds a regular meeting starting Thursday, it's a good bet it will discuss Northwest Airlines' attempt to revive a proposed merger.
Delta's board is expected to meet Thursday and Friday, according to two people familiar with the matter.
The meeting comes about a week after Northwest suggested to Delta's management that the two carriers proceed with a merger pact but offer fewer incentives to win support from pilots, whose feud over seniority stalled an earlier deal.
Meanwhile, Pardus Capital Management, a hedge fund that has been pushing Delta to combine with another airline, told investors this week that it is freezing investor redemptions because of a steep decline in the value of its stock holdings.
The New York-based investment fund, which held 7 million Delta shares at year end, turned up the heat on merger speculation around Delta in November, when it urged the company to pursue a deal with United Airlines.
The fund, which has about $2 billion invested in a handful of stocks including Delta and United is down about 40 percent from its peak last year, according to a person with knowledge of its operations. He said the fund has not changed its investments in the airlines.
A Delta spokeswoman wouldn't verify Delta's board meeting or any developments in the on-again, off-again merger discussions, which began in the fall.
However, industry analysts said Delta's board is almost certain to examine Northwest's latest proposal, as the conditions in the industry have deteriorated.
"I'm sure they will. There's an offer," said Ray Neidl, a New York-based analyst with Calyon Securities.
"I'm betting no deal without the pilots," he added.
"They've got a very good relationship with their pilots, and they don't want to endanger that relationship," Neidl said.
Delta and Northwest, which never publicly confirmed they were in talks, came close to announcing a deal, but it stalled while the pilots' unions at the two carriers tried unsuccessfully to hammer out a related agreement on how to merge the groups' seniority lists.
The airlines offered the pilots pay raises and a stake in the merged company if they worked out such differences ahead of time, to avoid later delays or operational problems stemming from political and employee opposition. US Airways and America West did not get pre-merger agreements from their pilots before they combined in 2005. Those pilots still are working under separate seniority lists and contracts, weighing down operational integration.
Robert Mann, an aviation consultant in Port Washington, N.Y., said soaring fuel costs, a likely recession and a spreading credit crunch have given the airlines reason to go back on such commitments.
"Things change. The deal that looked rational at $95 (per barrel) fuel doesn't look so rational at $110," Mann said. He added that it's "very much in Northwest's interests" to proceed, because the carrier's aging fleet gives it less flexibility to restructure its domestic network to offset worsening market conditions.