ATLANTA — After several months of speculation and stalled negotiations, Delta Air Lines and Northwest Airlines announced on April 14 that the carriers will merge to create the world’s largest airline, and their affiliated credit unions are bracing for the impact.

Because “there are still things to be worked out,” the $2.5 billion Delta Community Credit Union chose not to comment on the merger, said a spokeswoman, adding because the announcement involves the airline and not the credit union, it will refrain from any further comments.

Chartered in 1940 to serve Delta Air Lines, the Delta Community changed its name in 2005 from Delta Employees CU and has since expanded to ten counties throughout Georgia. It serves 118 companies and more than 165,000 members in Atlanta, Dallas, Los Angeles, Cincinnati and Salt Lake City.

The credit union had a Northwest Airline tie prior to the merger announcement–it serves Northwest Airlines Cargo, a subsidiary of the Minnesota-based airline, which is considered to be the largest cargo carrier among U.S. combination passenger and cargo airlines.

According to the Delta Community spokeswoman, the cargo carrier is part of the Air Cargo Association, which joined as a SEG a number of years ago. Less than half a dozen association employees are members.

Paul Parish, president/CEO of $1.8 billion Wings Financial, said the credit union is looking forward to the opportunities the Delta-Northwest merger may bring particularly in the area of potential new members.

“I’ll be sorry, like many of you, to see the red tail disappear from the sky because our organization grew up with Northwest Airlines,” Parish told members in a statement, referring to the carrier’s logo. “I believe, however, that this merger creates a tremendous opportunity for Wings Financial. We’ll be exposed to thousands of potential new members each with the opportunity to bring their financial services needs to Wings Financial.”

Wings Financial was chartered in 1938 to serve Northwest Airlines but has since expanded it field of membership to the entire air transportation industry. Its members include employees of more than 35 airlines and 80 different air transportation companies and government agencies, the credit union said. In 2007, it partnered with five airlines and now serves 119,000 members. Wings Financial led an unprecedented campaign to merge with Continental FCU last March.

Meanwhile, Atlanta is familiar territory for the Minnesota-based credit union. Wings Financial opened a branch in Atlanta in 2006, which it said ranks among its most productive offices. The branch is located a short distance from Delta Air Lines headquarters. Wings Financial said it has no intention of changing any of its office operations at the present time but will keep members informed of any changes as the merger process progresses.

Through its remote deposit service and 55,000 surcharge-free network of ATMs, Wings Financial said it will still serve members if there are job relocations.

“Your board of directors had the foresight to diversify this organization beyond Northwest Airlines first, with the addition of family membership and second, with the expansion of our charter to serve the entire air transportation industry,” Parish said. “Since expanding our charter, Wings Financial has continued to grow.”

The Delta-Northwest combined carrier will be called Delta and will be headquartered in Atlanta with executive offices in Minneapolis-St. Paul, New York, Amsterdam, Paris and Tokyo, according to Delta Air Lines.

Together, the new carrier and its regional partners will provide access to more than 390 destinations in 67 countries. Delta and Northwest will have more than $35 billion in aggregate annual revenues, operate a mainline fleet of nearly 800 aircraft and employ approximately 75,000 people worldwide.

Delta CEO Richard Anderson will be CEO of the combined company, while Doug Steenland, the current Northwest CEO, will serve on the board of directors. Ed Bastian, president of Delta, will retain that position as well as serve as the new chief financial officer.

Officials with both airlines said there will be no layoffs of front-line employees or immediate hub closings.

Nonpilot employees of Delta and Northwest will receive a 4% equity stake in the new company upon closing. Delta’s pilots agreed to a new four-year agreement, which includes the 4% equity stake and a seat on the new board. Northwest pilots, however, were still in negotiations at press time. Delta officials said they were hopeful that an agreement can be reached before the merger is finalized but Northwest pilots are not as optimistic.

“This agreement clearly disadvantages NWA [Northwest] pilots, both with respect to economic issues and seniority list integration,” said Dave Stevens, chairman of the pilots union in a statement.

The merger deal must first pass several regulatory approvals, including one from the Department of Justice. Shareholder approval will follow, and the airline officials anticipate the merger process will be completed by the end of 2008.

–msamaad@cutimes.com