updated 11/1/2004 4:58:51 PM ET 2004-11-01T21:58:51

Delta Air Lines Inc.'s pilots started voting Monday on a union contract proposal that would cut their salaries by nearly a third, while the company announced it secured another $500 million in financing to help the ailing airline stave off bankruptcy.

The proposed pilots' agreement, reached by union leaders last Wednesday after 15 months of negotiations, includes $1 billion in wage concessions by Delta pilots, who are currently among the highest paid in the nation with salaries averaging between $100,000 and $300,000 a year.

Company officials say the concessions are necessary to keep the nation's third-largest carrier afloat as it attempts to restructure its finances without having to file for bankruptcy.

The union's 7,000 pilots began casting their ballots over the phone and Internet at noon Monday and the voting will continue over the next 10 days, pilots' union spokeswoman Karen Miller said. She said the results will not be tracked until the voting ends at noon on Nov. 11. A simple majority vote is needed to ratify the tentative agreement.

As it awaited the pilots' vote, Delta received a commitment from GE Commercial Finance for $500 million of financing.

Delta said $200 million of the financing will be in loans, to be repaid in 12 equal monthly installments, starting two years after it gets the money. The remaining $300 million will be in the form of a credit line that will mature within three years.

Delta already has secured a commitment of up to $600 million in financing from a unit of American Express Co. and an agreement to defer $135 million of its debt for two years. However, those deals are conditioned on Delta achieving all of its cost-cutting targets, including the pilots' wage concessions.

"While there is a significant amount of work yet to be accomplished, these developments will make a meaningful contribution to the massive company-wide effort underway to transform our airline," Michael J. Palumbo, Delta's executive vice president and chief financial officer, said in a statement Monday.

Delta has lost more than $6 billion since early 2001, during which time it has eliminated 16,000 jobs and cut the pay of other employees, including its executives. Delta plans to cut up to another 7,000 jobs in the next 18 months. Last month, the airline reported a $651 million loss in the third-quarter.

The pilots' proposal calls for a 32.5 percent pay cut effective Dec. 1, and would provide no raises for the remainder of the five-year contract. Other pilots' concessions include revisions in the pension plan and work rules. In return, pilots would get options to purchase up to 15 percent of the company's stock.

Even if the agreement is approved, company officials say bankruptcy remains a possibility. Delta still has to convince the holders of its $20.6 billion in debt to restructure the repayment terms for all the pieces of its transformation puzzle to fall into place.

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