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Delta wins US antitrust approval for Virgin Atlantic stake

WASHINGTON — Delta Air Lines Inc. Thursday won Justice Department approval of its proposed equity investment in Richard Branson’s Virgin Atlantic Airways Ltd. and of the carriers’ related trans-Atlantic joint venture.

The department’s antitrust division said Thursday it has closed its investigation into the deal, allowing it to proceed. European regulators signed off on the transaction.

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Delta, based in Atlanta, agreed on Dec. 11 to buy a 49 percent stake in the British carrier for $360 million to boost its share of the trans-Atlantic travel market. The agreement included a joint venture on 31 daily round-trip flights between North America. Britain’s Virgin Group retains a 51 percent stake.

Delta won European Union approval for the transaction, according to an emailed statement from EU regulators Thursday.

Delta and Virgin Atlantic also have filed an application with the Transportation Department seeking antitrust immunity for their joint venture, according to the Justice Department statement. The antitrust division said it would consult, as appropriate, with that agency as it reviews the immunity request.

The US carrier’s 10 daily nonstop flights to Britain would be added to the 21 that Virgin Atlantic plans to operate under its summer 2013 schedule.

By linking itself with Virgin, Delta is targeting North Atlantic flights that generate about one-quarter of all global revenue from first- and business-class fares — more than twice as much as second-place trans-Pacific routes, according to the International Air Transport Association.

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