U.S. gives tentative approval for expanded Delta, Air France, Virgin joint venture

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao granted tentative approval on Friday for an expanded transatlantic joint venture made up of Delta Air Lines Inc DAL.N, Air France KLM SA AIRF.PA and Virgin Atlantic.

The expanded joint venture would replace two previously approved arrangements in the U.S.-United Kingdom and U.S.-Continental Europe markets and will allow for additional benefits like more options on European flights, a Department of Transportation statement said.

The Department tentatively approved antitrust immunity for the joint venture and will require the carriers to report annually on commercial cooperation efforts and provide a detailed assessment after five years, the statement said.

In May 2018, the three airlines signed definitive agreements as part of a plan for an expanded transatlantic joint venture.

EU antitrust regulators in February cleared Air France-KLM, Delta and Virgin Group to acquire joint control over Virgin Atlantic, saying they did not see any competition concerns.

The deal involves Air France-KLM buying 31% of Virgin Atlantic from Richard Branson’s Virgin Group, giving it joint control of the airline together with Delta and Virgin Group.

Delta, which owns 49% of Virgin Atlantic and 9% of Air France-KLM, did not immediately comment on Friday.

Reporting by David Shepardson and Bryan Pietsch in Washington; Editing by Matthew Lewis