Delta Air Lines, which had planned to terminate its flying contract with Pinnacle Airlines, has decided to give the regional carrier a reprieve.

Memphis-based Pinnacle said Friday that it will continue flying nine 76-seat jets for Delta, but the bigger airline will delay adding seven more Pinnacle jets until 2009.

The Atlanta-based airline said last month that it planned to sever its relationship with Pinnacle because of performance issues, including too many late flights.

"We must have our regional carriers perform to Delta standards," Delta CEO Richard Anderson said in a recent interview.

Pinnacle, which flies 50-seat jets for Northwest Airlines, estimates that it will cost the regional carrier $2 million in the second half of this year to take delivery of some new planes that won't be added to Delta's schedule for months.

Delta owns regional carrier Comair. It recently has moved to end its relationships with three of eight other operators that have done regional flying for Delta.

Delta intends to cut its domestic capacity by 11 to 13 percent this quarter and remove the equivalent of 100 regional jets from its flying schedule by year-end.

"Smaller regional aircraft are not efficient to operate at current fuel levels," Anderson said this week.

Northwest owns two regional carriers, Mesaba and Compass, and they have been taking delivery of new 76-seat regional jets.

After a Delta-Northwest merger, Anderson said, Comair, Mesaba and Compass "will still continue to be operated as separate carriers." But he added that there are some overhead cost savings that could be achieved by managing them "more collectively."

Liz Fedor • 612-673-7709