Delta Air, Charleston’s top carrier, gets key approvals for Virgin Atlantic deal

A Delta jet approaches LaGuardia International Airport in New York City. The airline is seeking a way to expand its flight offerings between the Big Apple and London, the busiest aviation route in the world. (AP/File)

Charles Krupa

ATLANTA — Delta Air Lines won key approvals from antitrust regulators on Thursday for its deal to buy almost half of Virgin Atlantic.

Both the U.S. Justice Department and the European Commission said the deal does not pose an antitrust threat. They concluded that Delta and Virgin Atlantic will still be competing against a strong alliance between American Airlines and British Airways, as well as other airlines.

The deal still needs approval from the U.S. Transportation Department, which Delta hopes to get later this year.

Atlanta-based Delta Air Lines Inc., which carries more passnger to and from Charleston than any other, wants to buy a 49 percent stake in Virgin Atlantic for $360 million. The two would then sell seats on each other’s flights, giving Delta a way to expand its flight offerings between New York and London, the busiest aviation route in the world.

Also on Thursday, the Transportation Department said it intends to approve new or expanded flights between the U.S. and Sao Paulo, Brazil.

The tentative approval would allow new flights by American Airlines from Los Angeles, and a second daily Delta Air Lines Inc. flight from Atlanta. A Delta flight from Detroit and a US Airways Group Inc. flight from Charlotte will continue.

A March 2011 agreement between the U.S. and Brazil allows the new flights. It calls for new air service to be phased in until October 2015. After that the two countries will lift all restrictions on routes, destinations and fares, the Transportation Department said.