ST. PAUL, Minn. — Delta Air Lines Inc. dispatched executive Ed Bastian to answer questions from Northwest Airlines pilots on Thursday, continuing Delta's effort to bring the pilots together before joining the two carriers.

The meeting behind closed doors at a hotel was unusual in bringing together the pilots of one airline and high-ranking executives from another. A pilot agreement is not necessary for a Delta-Northwest combination, but executives have said it would help the new airline save money faster.

The two airlines originally tried to get their pilots to agree on a joint contract even before announcing Delta's planned purchase of Northwest. When that failed, they announced the combination April 14, but said they still wanted a pilot deal in hand before the transaction closes, expected around the end of this year.

Bastian, the president and chief financial officer of Delta Air Lines Inc., said Northwest pilot leaders invited him to address their Master Executive Council meeting on Thursday. For more than two hours, he made a presentation about the impact of high fuel prices and Delta's desired timing for reaching a joint contract. He also answered questions.

Only Northwest pilot union leaders were allowed inside.

"It gave us a chance to talk about our respective views towards the future and how best to make certain that the merger's going to be a success," Bastian said.

Northwest Airlines Corp. pilots have said they want pay raises right away to bring them to the same level as their Delta counterparts. The pilots say Delta management wants to slowly bring their pay to the same level.

Asked whether the union brought up the issue of pay raises to match Delta pilots, Bastian said: "It wasn't a negotiating session. They expressed their views, and I heard them, and I understand them."

Dave Stevens, chairman of the Northwest branch of the Air Line Pilots Association, said the main point he stressed to Bastian was that "to have a successful merger, all pilots and all employees have to be treated the same."

Delta announced a 10 percent capacity cut in March.

"We're looking at some additional pruning, but it will be not nearly as material as the last go-around," Bastian said. He also said Delta has stopped hiring new pilots but does not expect to furlough any current pilots.