The parent of American Airlines had been trying to renegotiate pay and work rules for pilots in the weeks before Tuesday's Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing. Now, pension benefits could be at risk. ...

... For AMR's active employees with pension plans, the age at which they retire could prove critical. A 65-year-old retiree guaranteed up to $4,653.41 in monthly payments from the PBGC in 2012 should the agency take over his or her plan. But a 55-year-old retiree is guaranteed just $2,094.03.

For someone expecting a $4,500 monthly payment, "that's a huge reduction," said David Kudla, chief executive of Mainstay Capital Management LLC, an investment adviser in Grand Blanc, Mich., that manages $1 billion. Mr. Kudla advised Delphi Corp. retirees on their benefits when the large auto supplier terminated pension obligations during bankruptcy proceedings.

AMR's pension plans are "significantly underfunded at this point and it's a cash-strapped company. If I'm an active employee, my PBGC risk has just gone up," he said.

Mr. Kudla said pension benefits can sometimes decrease by a third or even half depending on how a company restructures. When the PBGC took over US Airways's pensions a few years ago, one former pilot's $75,000 in benefits were reduced to about $25,000, Mr. Kudla said.

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