ATLANTA — Delta Air Lines Inc. waved farewell to bankruptcy protection Monday and put its redesigned logo on display after surviving a hostile takeover bid during a 19 1/2-month reorganization that saw it shed billions in costs.
The board of directors will now turn its attention to picking a new leader to replace its outgoing chief executive officer, Gerald Grinstein, and deciding whether to sell or spin off regional feeder carrier Comair.
Grinstein, 74, said he expects choosing a successor for him to be the first priority. He said he believes the board, which consists of seven new members, will spend May getting acquainted with the candidates and make a decision sometime after that.
"That's the most important decision the board can make," said Grinstein, who will step down once his replacement is appointed.
The top internal candidates for CEO are Chief Financial Officer Ed Bastian and Chief Operating Officer James Whitehurst.
Bastian said he will stay on with Delta even if he isn't picked as the new leader. Whitehurst said he has chatted informally with some of the board members but hasn't had an interview.
"The important thing is it be an internal person," Bastian said.
No external candidates have been mentioned.
As for Comair, which also emerged from bankruptcy Monday, senior Delta executives said there's no timetable for making a decision whether to shed it. Someanalysts have suggested Delta will definitely sell Comair, and sell it quickly.
Whitehurst said "it's not a foregone conclusion" that Comair will be sold.
Delta, the nation's third-largest carrier and the largest by passenger volume at Charleston International, also unveiled plans Monday for a new paint job for its planes, featuring the company's logo flying across a blue background on the tails of aircraft.
The new logo will appear on more than 900 Delta and Delta Connection planes, at airports and on Delta advertising. The primary color of the new logo is a solid red instead of the familiar red-and-blue color scheme.
Planes will get the new design as they come in for scheduled maintenance.
"It's a new airline, it's a new day, so you might as well have a new color," said Ray Neidl, an airline analyst with Calyon Securities.
Neidl gave Delta credit for getting its cost structure down while in bankruptcy and for laying out a business plan for the future, after having suffered billions in losses the last six years.
Delta entered bankruptcy proceedings Sept. 14, 2005, amid high fuel prices and the burdens of high labor and pension expenses. It significantly reduced its labor and pension costs while under court protection. As of March 31, the company had 52,260 full-time employees, including those at subsidiary Comair.
Delta underwent many changes while in bankruptcy, which included cost and job cuts, restructuring its fleet and focusing more on international service. The airline terminated its pilots' defined benefit pension plan.
The carrier also defeated a hostile takeover bid by US Airways Group Inc.