ATLANTA (AP) _ Delta Air Lines Inc. and its pilots union have reached a tentative agreement on pay and benefit cuts that could avert a strike, according to a memo Friday from the union to its pilots.

No details of the agreement were released.

The pilots union had threatened to strike if its contract was thrown out. Delta, which has been operating under bankruptcy protection since September, has said in court papers that a pilot strike would put it out of business.

The deal on long-term pay and benefit cuts must be ratified by the airline's 5,930 pilots.

An arbitration panel had until Saturday to reach a decision on the No. 3 U.S. airline's request to throw out its pilot contract so it could impose up to $325 million in pay and benefit cuts. That decision is now on hold with the tentative agreement, but it could resurface if the rank-and-file pilots reject the agreement.

``I'm very pleased the parties have reached a tentative agreement,'' the panel chairman, Richard Bloch, told The Associated Press.

He declined to comment further, referring questions to the parties.

There was no immediate comment from the company.

In his memo to pilots, the chairman of the union's executive committee, Lee Moak, said the deal was reached early Friday morning. He said union leaders will meet in the next week to discuss the deal and determine whether to recommend it to the membership.

``We will not hurry,'' Moak said. ``We will proceed in an unrushed, methodical manner.''

Delta's pilots previously agreed to $1 billion in annual concessions, including a 32.5 percent wage cut, in a five-year deal in 2004. But Delta, which has imposed pay cuts on other employees, said it needs more from its pilots.

The company says the average earnings of pilots last year who worked the full year was more than $157,000. But the pilots union has said the figure was inflated by overtime and they have projected a significant decrease in average pilot earnings for 2006.