Delta Air Lines said it will buy almost half of Virgin Atlantic for $360 million as it seeks a bigger share of the lucrative New York-to-London travel market. Delta plans to form a joint venture with Virgin Atlantic where the two airlines would share money from the flights operated under the partnership. In order to coordinate their schedules, they'll need antitrust approval from US and European regulators. Delta is aiming to have the joint operation running by the end of 2013.
Sir Richard Branson will still own more than half of Virgin Atlantic, which will continue to fly as a separate airline under its own name. In 2000, Branson sold a stake to Singapore Airlines for about $960 million at the time. That's the share that Delta intends to buy. Landing rights at London's Heathrow Airport are limited, so buying part of Virgin Atlantic is a way for Delta to get a bigger piece of the travel market between Heathrow and the US. Currently, Delta has fewer flights from the New York area to Heathrow than either American or United, its main US competitors.