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Delta narrows loss to $130M in first quarter

ATLANTA - Delta Air Lines Inc., a week away from exiting bankruptcy, reported Monday that it narrowed its loss in the first quarter on an 11.4 percent rise in sales.

The nation's third-largest carrier said it lost $130 million in the three months ending March 31, compared to a loss of $2.07 billion for the same period a year ago. The year-ago loss included $2 million in dividends that accrued for preferred shareholders.

Excluding reorganization and special items, Delta said it lost $6 million in the latest quarter.

Delta's balance sheet did not list per-share figures.

Revenue in the first quarter rose to $4.14 billion, compared to $3.72 billion for the same period a year ago.

As of March 31, Delta had $2.9 billion in unrestricted cash, cash equivalents and short-term investments.

Atlanta-based Delta, which filed for bankruptcy on Sept. 14, 2005, is expected to emerge from Chapter 11 on April 30. Its existing stock will be canceled, and it will issue new shares to pay creditors and generate new investors.

A confirmation hearing on its reorganization plan is scheduled for Wednesday in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in New York. An overwhelming majority of creditors have voted to approve the plan, which values Delta at $9.4 billion to $12 billion upon emergence from Chapter 11. Delta's new stock is expected to begin trading in early May.

Chief Executive Gerald Grinstein told investors in a conference call Monday, the first quarterly earnings call hosted by the company since entering Chapter 11, that the company is confident it will get court approval to exit bankruptcy protection as scheduled. He said Delta expects to emerge with the second-highest market capitalization in the industry.

''This is a very meaningful time for everyone here at Delta,'' Grinstein said.

Grinstein will be stepping down as CEO once a replacement for him is chosen by Delta's new board of directors. Chief Financial Officer Ed Bastian and Chief Operating Officer James Whitehurst are leading internal candidates. To date, no external candidates have been mentioned.