Delta Air Lines Inc on Tuesday named board member and industry veteran Richard Anderson the airline's new chief executive.

Anderson, currently a senior executive at UnitedHealth Group Inc and a former CEO of Northwest Airlines Corp, succeeds Gerald Grinstein, 75, who turned Delta around from bankruptcy and had already announced plans to retire.

The appointment, which takes effect on September 1, stoked speculation the No. 3 U.S. airline and Northwest, the No. 5 U.S. carrier, could join forces. But Anderson said in a conference call there are no plans for a merger between the two.

Anderson, 52, has been president of UnitedHealth Group's commercial services unit since 2006. He joined UnitedHealth after a 14-year career with Northwest, which emerged from bankruptcy this past spring.

Grinstein preferred a choice from Delta's executive team that helped him turn that carrier around. But the board went in another direction.

After a thorough search, the board concluded that Richard Anderson possesses the right blend of seasoned leadership, strategic skills, international experience and airline knowledge the company needs to navigate the industry's challenges and capitalize on its opportunities, said Daniel Carp, chairman of Delta's board.

Northwest operates major overseas passenger and cargo routes, especially to Asia. Delta hopes to expand that business under Anderson, including new service to China.

The top in house Delta candidates were Ed Bastian, chief financial officer and Jim Whitehurst, the chief operating officer. Bastian will move to president. Whitehurst's future is unclear. Anderson said he had not yet talked with Whitehurst.

(Reporting by Bill Rigby in New York, Kyle Peterson in Chicago and John Crawley in Washington.)