NEW YORK, DEC. 2 -- Pilots for Pan American World Airways said today that they had reached a tentative agreement with the airline on a three-year contract that exchanges wage cuts for profit sharing and protection against takeovers.

The unexpected deal appeared to breathe new life into the current management of the airline's parent, Pan Am Corp., which had been pressured by its unions to consider a merger offer from Braniff Inc.

"The Acker regime appeared to be dead," said Anthony Hatch, an analyst at the investment firm Argus Research, referring to Pan Am's chairman and chief executive, C. Edward Acker. "But that is no longer the case."

By reaching its agreement with Pan Am, the pilots broke ranks with a four-union coalition that had been working for a year to arrange a management change at Pan Am.

The coalition had persuaded the Pritzker family, which owns Braniff, to make an offer, and had agreed to accept big wage concessions if Braniff succeeded.

The pilots' announcement put no dollar figure on the concessions and was sparse on other details. A press release said the contract provided "profit sharing, protections against mergers and takeovers, and opportunities for advancement in a new company growth plan, in exchange for wage concessions of 16 percent."

Reports in today's editions of The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal said the pilots had accepted $30 million in wage concessions and work-rule changes that would save the airline $25 million, in exchange for a substantial amount of stock.

The pilots indicated that the pact was a form of insurance against possible fallout from an acquisition. The union reportedly feared harsher working conditions and lower wages after a merger.

"We are particularly pleased to have an agreement in place at this particular time, with all the uncertainty over the airline's future, and with having gone for three months without a contract," said Richard Burke, chairman of the Pan Am pilots' executive council.

But Burke said the pilots would continue to work with other Pan Am unions "to explore options for a potential buyout if it should prove to be in the best interests of all employes."

Margaret Brennan, who heads the Independent Union of Flight Attendants, said prospects were dim for agreements between Pan Am and its other unions.

"I doubt the other unions will make agreements like that with current management," she said.

In addition to the pilots and flight attendants, the coalition includes the International Brotherhood of Teamsters and the Flight Engineers International Association