Delta Air Lines (NYSE: DAL ) is buying 49% of Virgin Atlantic from Singapore Airlines for $360 million, giving the Atlanta-based carrier greater access to the lucrative trans-Atlantic route.
The joint venture will give Delta and Virgin Atlantic more flights at Heathrow Airport in England, the second busiest airport in Europe. Delta will now be able to compete for business travel in this market against United Airlines-Continental (NYSE: UAL ) and American Airlines (NASDAQOTH: AAMRQ). The trans-Atlantic traffic is a major reason why US Airways (NYSE: LCC ) has been pursuing a union with American Airlines, even though the latter is in bankruptcy. American dominates travel between the U.S. and London through its partnership with British Airways, controlling 60% of the market.
The second biggest carrier in the world by passenger traffic, Delta will now be able to leverage Virgin Atlantic's luxury brand to increase revenue for flights in and out of London. The new union will be "very positive and accretive for our long-term partners ... KLW, Air France and Alitalia," according to Delta CEO Richard Anderson. Virgin Atlantic CEO Richard Branson was similarly bullish, stating that the deal, which was two years in the making, "signals a new era of expansion."
Delta and Virgin Atlantic will be applying for antitrust immunity that will allow for scheduling, fare pricing, and other joint operations. While there are concerns about resistance from the U.S. Department of Justice, American initiated its market-leading alliance with British Airways in 2010. That same year, United was also able to merge with Continental to create the world's largest airline.
According to Delta, the purchase from Singapore Airlines -- which bought its stake in Virgin Atlantic for $965 million in 1999 -- does not depend on receiving antitrust immunity. After the deal's announcement, Delta's share price rose more than 5%, to over $10.65.