Delta Airlines has hailed its deal with Virgin Atlantic as “the last piece of the puzzle in being number one across the Atlantic”.


The airline will see a new hub terminal at New York JFK open today and later this year, pending regulatory clearance, should establish a transatlantic joint venture with Virgin Atlantic from Heathrow.


The US carrier announced its purchase of  Singapore Airlines’ 49% stake in Virgin in December.


Delta chief executive Richard Anderson said: “Delta is leading the US [airline] industry revival.”


Speaking ahead of the opening of the $1.4-billion Terminal 4 at New York JFK, he added: “This is the last piece of the puzzle for Delta in being number one across the Atlantic.


Anderson ruled out Delta moving back into London Gatwick. He said: “Delta is focused on Heathrow and has no plans at Gatwick.”


However, he added: “Once we receive anti-trust immunity for the joint venture with Virgin we wiil undertake detailed analysis of whether we have the very best network [from the UK].”


Anderson rejected a suggestion that Delta might discuss a partnership with Etihad, despite talks between Delta Skyteam partner Alitalia and the Abu Dhabi-based carrier.


He said: “We are not in any discussions about a partnership with Etihad.”


Instead, he hit out at the level of government support for leading Middle East carriers.


Anderson said: “These are state-owned airlines. You are not dealing with airlines, with companies – they are governments.


“We believe we need a level playing field, and where we are on a level playing field we will succeed.”


Delta senior vice-president for Europe, the Middle East and Africa Perry Cantarutti, said: “The joint venture with Virgin Atlantic will make us a credible competitor with British Airways and American [from Heathrow].”


Cantarutti said: “We felt we didn’t have enough offering from London. There is demand for a greater range of departure times. That is what motivated our transaction with Virgin.”