Northwest Airlines executive Neal Cohen, who played a key role in the carrier's bankruptcy restructuring, will leave the airline in mid-June.

Cohen rejoined Northwest as chief financial officer in May 2005, a signal to some industry insiders that the carrier likely would file for Chapter 11 protection, because Cohen was a veteran of the US Airways bankruptcy.

Delta Air Lines and Northwest, now proposed merger partners, both filed for bankruptcy on Sept. 14, 2005.

"Having successfully completed the restructuring process, and with the impending merger with Delta, I'm excited about the opportunity to pursue business interests outside of the airline industry," the 48-year-old Cohen said in a written statement Tuesday.

Northwest CEO Doug Steenland said Cohen's "leadership throughout the restructuring process positioned the company well during an extremely tumultuous period in the industry."

Cohen was unpopular with some Northwest labor leaders who thought he demanded excessive pay and benefit cuts from employees.

In 2005, Cohen was called a "hired gun" by one labor leader, because he returned to Northwest after US Airways pilots had called for his removal. Labor leaders also criticized Cohen for accepting a $2.5 million severance package after he resigned from US Airways in 2004. He previously worked at Northwest from 1991 to 2000.

In the past year, Cohen was executive vice president of strategy and international business. He was also chief executive officer of regional airlines, which have been growing.

Northwest spokeswoman Tammy Lee said the carrier will make a regulatory filing in a few days that spells out the payments Cohen will receive when he departs.

Liz Fedor • 612-673-7709