Delta Air Lines and Virgin Blue Airline Group are seeking antitrust immunity from U.S. regulators for a period of five years as a condition to their moving forward with a joint venture related to flights in Australia and the South Pacific. The airlines announced the proposed joint venture on July 8, but Delta has stated that it will not complete the joint venture without antitrust immunity. The joint venture would allow the companies to engage in code-sharing and joint marketing of their routes.
The parties have applied to the Department of Transportation, which has the power to provide airlines under its jurisdiction with antitrust immunity. The application is likely to be controversial because the Department of Justice has criticized the Department of Transportation’s review of immunity applications and is likely to insist on an in-depth vetting of the proposed joint venture. Although the request for antitrust immunity is somewhat unusual, it is not wholly unexpected when considered in the context of the Department of Justice’s recent increased scrutiny of the airline industry.