Delta Air Lines, the nation's third-largest carrier, plans to file for bankruptcy protection in New York as early as tomorrow, according...

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ATLANTA — Delta Air Lines, the nation’s third-largest carrier, plans to file for bankruptcy protection in New York as early as tomorrow, according to an industry consultant who has been informed of the company’s plans.

Delta’s stock tumbled 25 cents, or 22.7 percent, to close at 85 cents in heavy trading yesterday.

The consultant, who was not authorized to disclose the information and thus spoke on condition of anonymity, said Delta is working with GE Commercial Finance and other creditors to arrange roughly $2 billion in debtor-in-possession financing. The money would allow the airline to operate in bankruptcy.

Delta, which has lost nearly $10 billion since January 2001, likely will pledge the few remaining assets not already pledged as collateral for loans as part of the bankruptcy financing agreement, the consultant said. “There is nothing unencumbered after this,” the consultant said.

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The consultant said the filing was expected to come tomorrow afternoon but could be pushed to Thursday depending on when the bankruptcy financing is completed.

A Delta spokeswoman declined to comment, saying no decision about bankruptcy has been made. Two spokesmen for GE Commercial Finance also declined to immediately comment.

Reached at his Connecticut home yesterday, Delta director Edward Budd said, “Anything that’s going to be talked about at Delta is going to come from Delta.” Calls to the homes of four other company directors were not answered.

The bankruptcy filing would come as Delta has been unable to right itself amid persistently high fuel costs and heavy debt and pension obligations.

The filing would make Delta the third major U.S. carrier to enter Chapter 11 since the 2001 terrorist attacks, joining United Airlines and US Airways, which has filed twice in the past three years.

If it follows the pattern of most big airline bankruptcies, Delta’s existing shares would eventually become worthless and portions of the airline’s existing debt would be exchanged for equity in a reorganized Delta. One major question is whether Delta would go the route of United and US Airways and seek to turn over its pilot and other employee pension plans to the federal government.

Delta has announced up to 24,000 job cuts over the past four years. In September 2004, it also said it would shed its Dallas hub as part of a sweeping turnaround plan aimed at saving the airline. The plan was hampered, however, by soaring fuel costs.

American Airlines, the nation’s biggest carrier, teetered on the verge of bankruptcy before winning deep concessions from its employees.

The other legacy carriers, those with a large presence in multiple regions before deregulation in 1978, are Northwest Airlines and Continental Airlines.

Northwest has also been said to be close to bankruptcy.