Virgin Atlantic’s US partner Delta Air Lines plans to resume dividend payments for the first time in a decade.

The dividend is part of a plan to return more than $1 billion to sahreholders over the next three years.

Chairman Daniel Carp said the carrier’s financial performance and balance sheet had strengthened considerably over the past five years and it believed it was now in a position to begin returning cash to shareholders.

The company plans to make a 6% dividend payment on September 10. The board has also authorised a $500 million programme of share repurchases, to be completed by September 2016.

Carp said: “The board’s shareholder return programme makes a long-term commitment to our shareholders with the implementation of an ongoing quarterly dividend, while also providing flexibility to return additional cash to shareholders through the share repurchase programme.”

The resumption of dividend payments comes after a sharp reduction in Delta’s debt. It expects to bring adjusted net debt, which stood at $17 billion in 2009, down to $10 billion this year. It expects to reduce the level further, to $7billion, the Financial Times reported.