Delta Air Lines Inc. will invest $360 million to procure a 49 percent stake in Virgin Atlantic Airways Ltd. in a bid to enhance its trans-Atlantic service, Delta announced Dec. 11.

The joint venture will seek to offer both carriers greater flexibility with the strict landing slot constraints at London’s Heathrow Airport.

“Our new partnership with Virgin Atlantic will strengthen both airlines and provide a more effective competitor between North America and the U.K., particularly on the New YorkLondon route, which is the largest airline route between the U.S. and Europe,” said Richard Anderson, Delta’s chief executive officer, in a news release.

English business magnate Sir Richard Branson and the larger Virgin Group Ltd. will retain majority control of the British airline company, should the deal receive European approval. 

Already the world’s No. 2 airline by traffic and the largest U.S. carrier over the Atlantic, Delta maintains a joint venture with with European airlines Air France-KLM and Alitalia.

The major stock purchase by Delta follows a year of strong sales for the company, which announced Dec. 12 that it expected a profit of $1.6 billion in 2012 and another year of solid improvement in 2013.

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