Delta Air Lines Inc., the nation's third-largest carrier, could file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection next week if it can line up financing, sources familiar with the plan said yesterday.

The Atlanta-based airline is trying to line up between $1.6 billion and $1.7 billion in debtor-in-possession financing, which is used to operate during bankruptcy proceedings, according to a report in Debtwire, an online news service for hedge funds and investment bankers. Banks or other financial institutions that provide debtor-in-possession financing have first claims on any assets during a reorganization.

According to the report, Delta officials have received proposals from J.P. Morgan Chase & Co., Citigroup Inc. and General Electric Co.'s commercial finance arm.

If Delta does not obtain the financing, the filing could be delayed, said the sources, who spoke on the condition that they not be identified because the plan is not final.

If Delta files for court protection, it would become the third major airline to operate under bankruptcy. United Airlines parent UAL Corp., which filed in 2002, said it expects to emerge in late January. And Arlington-based US Airways Group Inc., which filed its second bankruptcy in September, expects to emerge at the end of this month.

Northwest Airlines Corp. has also signaled that if it is unable to obtain more than $1.1 billion in annual pay and benefit cuts from its workers, it may have to consider filing for bankruptcy protection. Northwest executives resumed talks this week with the Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Association, the union that represents Northwest's mechanics and aircraft cleaners. That group has been on strike since Aug. 20.

Like many airlines, Delta has been hurt by high fuel prices and weak revenue. It has lost nearly $10 billion since 2001.

This week, Delta announced plans to sell 11 Boeing 767-200 jets for $190 million. It also announced plans to reduce flights out of its Cincinnati hub by 26 percent. Also this week, the airline finalized the sale of its Atlantic Southeast Airlines Inc. division to SkyWest Inc., a Utah-based regional carrier, for $350 million in cash.

Delta warned its pilots last month that its cash levels had fallen to a point where it might have to seek concessions.

At the end of June, Delta had about $1.7 billion in cash, down from $2 billion in March.