Virgin Atlantic aircraft stand at Heathrow Airport in London. (Simon Dawson / Bloomberg )
In a move to capture more European travelers, Delta Air Lines agreed Tuesday to purchase a 49% stake in Virgin Atlantic Airways.
Atlanta-based Delta will pay Singapore Airlines $360 million to buy its share of the London-based airline, leaving Virgin Group and its founder, Richard Branson, with the majority 51% stake.
Under the deal, Delta and Virgin Atlantic will be able to operate and share in the cost and revenues of a total of 31 peak-day round-trip flights between Britain and North America, including 23 from London's Heathrow Airport, Europe's busiest airport.
Airline analysts said the deal is good news for Delta and Virgin Atlantic in the battle for lucrative transatlantic passengers.
"Delta gains greatly expanded access to Heathrow Airport and Virgin's elite passengers, ideal target customers, and Virgin gets a potentially lifesaving shot in the arm with Delta now as a partner," according to a report by Gimme Credit, an independent corporate bond research firm.
The airlines must file an application for antitrust immunity with the U.S. Department of Transportation. The deal must also win approval of the U.S. Department of Justice and the European Union's competition regulators. Delta officials expect to win approval by the end of 2013.
"By combining the strengths of our two companies in a joint venture, we can provide customers with a seamless network between North America and the U.K. and continue building a better airline for our customers, employees and shareholders," said Richard Anderson, Delta's chief executive.
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