updated 3/5/2008 7:24:14 PM ET 2008-03-06T00:24:14

Pilot union leaders at Delta Air Lines Inc. and Northwest Airlines Corp. were meeting Wednesday in Washington, a hopeful sign that formal negotiations over integrating seniority lists to facilitate a combination of the two carriers could soon resume, three people familiar with the discussions told The Associated Press.

The people, who asked not to be named because of the sensitivity of the situation, said the meetings included top leaders of the two unions, but not their full negotiating teams.

Prior to the meetings that started Tuesday in Washington, the two sides had not met since Feb. 21, the three people said.

Several people familiar with the discussions have said the pieces of a deal that would create the world's largest airline are in place, held up only by the lack of a seniority agreement between the pilots at each carrier.

Unlike prior airline deals, Atlanta-based Delta and Eagan, Minnesota-based Northwest have tried to get their pilots to work out their own integration in advance of any airline combination announcement. Seniority is a major issue for pilots because it determines who gets desirable — and higher-paying — planes, routes, and schedules.

Northwest's pilots' union has said seniority issues must be addressed if they're going to agree to a merger. Delta executives have said they will only agree to a combination with another carrier if, among other things, the seniority of their employees is protected.

Delta's president and chief financial officer, Ed Bastian, said during an event in Seattle on Friday that if Delta's consolidation talks fall apart, the airline isn't committed to finding a replacement deal. Bastian said the company expects solid growth for the year and that the airline has "a great standalone plan."

Also Wednesday, Delta announced it has promoted three management officials and is adding a fourth.

Delta technical operations leader Tony Charaf has been named president of Delta TechOps, the airline's maintenance division. John Laughter, who had been serving as vice president, maintenance operations, is being promoted to senior vice president, maintenance operations. Neil Stronach, who had been serving as vice president, operational control and reliability, is being promoted to senior vice president, operations control.

Delta also said Gil West will join the operations team on Monday as the company's new senior vice president, airport customer service. West most recently worked as president and chief executive officer of Laidlaw Transit Services.

Delta shares rose $1.19, or 9.1 percent, to close at $14.33 in trading Wednesday, while Northwest shares rose $1.19, or 8.8 percent, to $14.69.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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