Delta Air Lines Inc. asked a U.S. bankruptcy court late yesterday for permission to throw out its existing contract with its pilots as part of the carrier's restructuring efforts.

The third-largest U.S. airline is seeking about $325 million in pay and benefit cuts from its 7,000 pilots, its only unionized group. Delta filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in September.

If the bankruptcy judge approves Delta's request, the airline will be allowed to impose wage and benefit cuts on the pilots unilaterally. The judge can accept, reject or modify the airline's request.

Delta has asked for a Nov. 16 hearing on the matter. While the judge deliberates on the request, both sides could agree on a new contract.

The pilots union said earlier yesterday that the airline had walked away from cost-cutting negotiations. In a message to pilot members, union leaders said that Delta's management was not "engaging" and that there were "no meaningful negotiations by management's team."

Delta spokesman Anthony Black said the airline was still willing to negotiate with the pilots. "While Delta remains open to reaching consensual agreements to achieve its necessary pilot cost reductions, the urgency of our financial situation requires that we move forward quickly," he said.

The Atlanta-based airline has lost nearly $10 billion since 2001 and has said it expects to lose about $2.6 billion this year.

Delta's pilots union leaders said the group hoped to continue talks. "It's always been the pilots' goal to work with management and to try and seek a consensual agreement that would try to satisfy the parties' needs," pilot spokesman John Culp said. "This is a path they have chosen; it's not a path we'd prefer."

Last month, Northwest Airlines Corp., which is also operating under Chapter 11 protection, filed a request to terminate its labor agreement if its employees do not agree on new contracts. Northwest is trying to cut about $2.5 billion in costs.

US Airways Group Inc. also had asked a bankruptcy judge to terminate its employee contracts. The judge instead crafted a modified contract that cut workers' pay by 21 percent for three months, allowing the airline and its labor unions time to reach long-term agreements. US Airways emerged from bankruptcy protection last month and merged with America West Holdings Corp.

UAL Corp.'s United Airlines, which has been in bankruptcy protection for nearly three years, filed two requests to nullify contracts with its unionized workers. It got a new, cheaper contract with its workers before the bankruptcy judge ruled and plans to emerge from bankruptcy protection by February.