updated 5/14/2008 11:31:20 AM ET 2008-05-14T15:31:20

Delta Air Lines Inc. pilots voted overwhelmingly in favor of changes to their contract that will give them pay raises, an equity stake and other benefits, but also will give management more leeway as part of a proposed combination with Northwest Airlines Corp.

Voting, which started May 1, ended Wednesday. A letter from the chairman of the union's executive committee, Lee Moak, to fellow pilots said 78 percent of pilots who voted approved of the changes.

The contract covers more than 7,000 pilots at Atlanta-based Delta. Northwest's 5,000 pilots are not part of the agreement.

Delta agreed to extend its existing collective bargaining agreement with its pilots through the end of 2012. The revised contract provides the Delta pilots a 3.5 percent equity stake in the new company.

In exchange, the company will be able to place the Delta code and brand on Northwest flights and retain Northwest's large stake in Midwest Airlines, while maintaining those two carriers' separate operational status.

Delta announced April 14 that it had agreed to acquire Northwest in a stock-swap deal that would create the world's largest carrier. The deal, which calls for the combined carrier to be called Delta and to be based in Atlanta, must be approved by shareholders and regulators. Delta pilots have been granted a voting seat on the board of the combined company.

Union leaders from Delta and Eagan, Minn.-based Northwest hope to work out an agreement on a merged contract and an integrated seniority list. They could not agree on the seniority issue before the combination was announced.

Moak was expected to discuss the proposed combination with lawmakers in Washington later Wednesday.

The two airlines believe the deal is necessary to allow them to be profitable in the future amid fuel prices that have soared to more than $125 a barrel.

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 This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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