Air France-KLM is buying 31% of Virgin Atlantic, leaving Richard Branson’s parent company, Virgin Group, with a minority stake in the airline he founded.
Air France-KLM is taking the £220 million ($286 million)-stake in Virgin Atlantic as part of a four-way joint-venture with Delta.
Virgin Group’s share will fall from 51% to 20%, while Delta will retain 49%.
Richard Branson said he would remain “very much involved” after the deal.
In an open letter, he said that the new joint-venture would be “extremely beneficial” to the airline, customers and the brand, and recalled key moments in Virgin Atlantic’s history, striking a valedictory tone.
Air France-KLM CEO Jean-Marc Janaillac said the deal would give customers “even more choice between Europe, UK and the United States via twelve hubs on both sides of the Atlantic”.
Virgin and Delta have operated a joint-venture for almost five years, plying the busy routes between Europe and the US.
Competition has intensified in recent years, with newcomers including Norwegian and British Airways’ low-cost Level service offering no-frills long-haul flights.
The new venture, which will also include troubled Italian carrier Alitalia, will operate 300 transatlantic flights per day.
In a joint press release Virgin and its partners said the venture would offer “convenient flight schedules with competitive fares and reciprocal frequent flyer benefits, including the ability to earn and redeem miles across all carriers”.
Virgin Atlantic, set up in 1984, was one of the earliest companies in Richard Branson’s Virgin brand portfolio.
In his open letter, Richard Branson recalled its eventful rivalry with British Airways, the impact of the 9/11 terrorist attacks and the financial crisis.
Richard Branson wrote that as he got older he was keen to ensure that “all the necessary building blocks are in place for Virgin Atlantic to continue to prosper and grow for the next 50 years”.
While transatlantic routes are among the most lucrative, Virgin has had mixed fortunes in recent years.
In 2016, Virgin reported its best profits for five years, but the company warned earlier this year that it was likely to go into the red again in 2017 as the weaker pound pushed up costs and put off holiday-makers.
Air France-KLM is reportedly planning to cut 2,900 jobs after talks with pilots unions were unsuccessful.
The airline would not confirm the number of cuts, but said it would present a cost-cutting plan on October 5.
Profits at Air France have been hit in part by strikes by pilots, who have been protesting over the expansion of its budget subsidiary.
It also faces stiff competition from low-cost rivals as well as airlines in the Middle East.
Air France said after a board meeting that it had decided to implement a new restructuring plan in order to accelerate its recovery.
“Facing the impossibility of reaching an agreement to implement the productivity measures within Air France and restore long-term profitability, the board members consider it essential to introduce an alternative plan and have unanimously agreed to mandate Air France-KLM and Air France Management to carry this out,” the company said in a statement.
The plan will be presented to the Works Council on October 5.
Union sources leaked the planned job cuts to reporters at two news agencies.
The unions also said the restructuring could include retiring five long haul planes next summer and nine others in 2017.
One official is quoted as saying: “These points were presented to the board for information, but no vote has been taken.”