Virgin Atlantic chairman Richard Branson has scrapped plans to sell 31% of the airline to Air France-KLM as originally agreed as part of the transatlantic joint venture (JV) among the two companies and Delta Air Lines.

Branson holds 51% of the UK-based long-haul specialist, with Delta holding the remaining 49%. Under the JV, Branson was to sell a 31% stake to Air France-KLM.

The transatlantic JV was approved by the US Department of Transportation Nov. 22.

“Importantly following this news, we have agreed (subject to contract) with our new joint venture partners, that our family will continue to hold the 51% of Virgin Atlantic shares we own,” Branson said Dec. 2 on his company blog.

Branson, who founded the airline 35 years ago, said he had “always viewed Virgin Atlantic as one of my children” and was reluctant to part with it.

Explaining the genesis of the new JV, Branson said an earlier alliance with Delta had worked well.

“But with [British Airways’] clout in Europe we needed further partners to provide feed for the Virgin Atlantic network, and discussions started with Air France-KLM. Agreement in principle was reached in May 2017,” he said. “To get the deal done, we initially thought our family would need to reduce its shareholding in Virgin Atlantic. I was willing to do so, reluctantly, to guarantee the long-term success of Virgin Atlantic.”

Branson said the transatlantic JV “remains an essential part of our future and long-term success.”

Requests for comment from Virgin Atlantic were referred to Virgin Group, where no one was available. An Air France spokeswoman said the airline was making no comment, but that a statement was expected.

Alan Dron, alandron@adepteditorial.com