Delta Air Lines and Virgin Atlantic are on course to receive immunity from US antitrust laws to operate their planned transatlantic joint venture.

The US Department of Transportation said on Friday it had tentatively concluded that the alliance, which involves Delta buying a 49% stake in Sir Richard Branson’s carrier, would promote competition and provide benefits to consumers in the North America-UK market.

Delta and Virgin Atlantic announced the joint venture in December with the US carrier agreeing to buy the shareholding from Singapore Airlines for $360 million.

The deal would help Delta and Virgin better compete against the British Airways-American Airlines joint transatlantic venture from Heathrow.

The two airlines would also gain an advantage over American and US Airways, whose merger is being contested by the US Justice Department.

Among the consumer benefits the airlines touted are increased co-operation on flights from the UK to US, including nine daily round-trip flights from Heathrow to JFK in New York and Newark.

The US DoT said: “The Department concluded that the alliance would benefit passengers by providing stronger competition with existing alliances in the US-Europe market and that it would be unlikely to have anticompetitive effects.”

Parties were given 14 days to lodge objections to its conclusions. If no objections are made, it said its tentative finding and conclusions would become final.