DOT grants tentative approval of antitrust immunity to Delta-Air France-KLM-Virgin Atlantic joint venture

The U.S. Department of Transportation announced it is tentatively granting antitrust immunity for a trans-Atlantic joint venture between Delta Air Lines and Air France, KLM and Virgin Atlantic.

The joint venture for all flights between the U.S. and Europe would replace two previously approved agreements. Those agreements between Delta and Air France-KLM and between Delta and Virgin Atlantic currently operate in parallel, according to Delta.

After the announcement of the tentative approval Friday, interested parties have 14 days to submit comments. The DOT will review the comments before making a final decision on the deal.

Getting antitrust immunity allows carriers to coordinate on prices and schedules and to share revenue on flights between the United States and Europe in a joint venture, instead of competing against each other.

Airlines are limited on cross-border acquisitions, but carriers aim to get some of the benefits of mergers through joint ventures with foreign partners.

Delta said in a written statement that the new approval would “deepen” the partnership and allow “a more extensive network of flights and destinations on both sides of the Atlantic.

The DOT said if it grants final approval, the new joint venture would continue to allow increased capacity and frequent flier cooperation under the previous joint ventures, "as well as new benefits such as more options on European flights."
The approval includes conditions to "protect competition, promote public  benefits such as additional flights and increased seat availability," and allow the DOT to monitor the effects of the joint venture for consumers through annual reports and a detailed assessment after five years, according to the agency.