Six Flags Inc , the world's largest regional theme park company, said on Saturday it filed for bankruptcy protection.

The New York-based company operates amusement parks across the United States, Canada and Mexico.

Six Flags said it filed for Chapter 11 protection with the unanimous support of its lenders' steering committee.

The plan will result in a deleveraging of the company's balance sheet by about $1.8 billion, as well as the elimination of more than $300 million in preferred stock obligations.

The current management team inherited a $2.4 billion debt load that cannot be sustained, particularly in these challenging financial markets, Mark Shapiro, the chief executive of Six Flags, said in a news release.

As a result, we are cleaning up the past and positioning the company for future growth.

Shapiro said the action will not affect day-to-day park operations. The bankruptcy filing paves the way for a full revival of the company, he said.

Six Flags, which offers 800 rides at its 20 parks, had been burdened with a massive debt load and a looming cash payment in August.

(Reporting by Matthew Lewis, editing by Patricia Zengerle)