Delta-Virgin Atlantic deal gets final approval

Atlanta-based Delta Air Lines on Monday received final approval for a deal with British carrier Virgin Atlantic Airways aimed at bolstering its competitive position in the crucial trans-Atlantic market for flights across the pond.

The approval is the final piece needed for the full rollout of a partnership launched with Delta’s $360 million purchase of a 49 percent stake of Richard Branson’s Virgin Atlantic.

The federal antitrust immunity granted by the U.S. Department of Transportation allows Delta and Virgin Atlantic to form a joint venture to coordinate schedules and prices and to share revenue on flights between North America and the United Kingdom. The DOT said it had concluded that, overall, the alliance and joint venture will be pro-competitive and are likely to generate substantial benefits for the traveling public.

For Delta, the most important piece of the deal is that it gains more access to London Heathrow Airport and gains a bigger presence on the most important business route in the world. That’s the New York to London route, a key passage for the banking industry and other business travel, which is currently dominated by a British Airways-American Airlines partnership.

Delta on Monday unveiled a new schedule for flights on Delta and Virgin Atlantic from New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport to London Heathrow Airport — featuring flights every half hour during the peak early evening period and then hourly until 10:30 p.m.