Virgin Atlantic has confirmed a joint transatlantic venture with Delta Air Lines.
The US carrier is acquiring Singapore Airlines’ 49% stake in the UK airline for $360 million.
Virgin Group and Sir Richard Branson will retain the majority 51% stake and Virgin Atlantic will retain its brand and operating certificate.
The share purchase and the joint venture are expected to be implemented by the end of 2013, providing regulatory hurdles can be overcome.
The deal will enable both carriers to better compete against the rival British Airways/American Airlines transatlantic joint business out of Heathrow.
Under the deal both airlines will share the costs and revenues from all joint venture flights.
Their combined transatlantic network to North America will include 31 peak-day return flights.
A combined total of nine daily return flights will run from Heathrow to New York JFK and Liberty International airports.
There will be reciprocal frequent flyer benefits and shared access to airport lounges.
The airlines will file an application with the US Department of Transportation for antitrust immunity, which will allow a closer relationship and coordination on schedules and operations.
The transaction also will be reviewed by the US Department of Justice and the European Union’s competition regulator and other relevant authorities.
Virgin founder Sir Richard Branson said: “This is an exciting day in Virgin Atlantic history.
“It signals the start of a new era of expansion, financial growth and many opportunities for our customers and our business.
“I truly look forward to the possibilities our partnership with Delta will offer. We have always been known for our innovation and service and have punched above our weight for 28 years.
“That is why our customers love us so much. We will retain that independent spirit but move forward in a strengthened partnership with Delta.”
Chief executive Steve Ridgway said: “Consumers will reap the rewards of this partnership between two great airline brands on services from the UK to the USA, Canada and Mexico through a shared ethos in the highest standards of customer service.
“This unique joint venture will deliver much more effective competition at Heathrow.
“Both airlines are confident that the Department of Transportation will be as convinced as we are of the extensive consumer benefits arising from this joint venture, with expedited approval being granted by the end of 2013.
“The transatlantic market is Virgin Atlantic’s heartland – it’s where we started. By aligning with Delta we can continue to grow our North American network and offer greatly enhanced connectivity across the USA.”
Delta chief executive Richard Anderson said: “Our new partnership with Virgin Atlantic will strengthen both airlines and provide a more effective competitor between North America and the UK, particularly on the New York-London route, which is the largest airline route between the U.S. and Europe.
“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 UK, and continue building a better airline for our customers, employees and shareholders.”