The US Department of Transportation (DOT) has given Alitalia and Delta Air Lines six months to reach a commercial agreement which would allow the Italian carrier to be included in a transatlantic joint venture that also includes Air France, KLM Royal Dutch Airlines, and Virgin Atlantic.

Formalising its tentative decision to grant antitrust immunity (ATI) to the joint venture, the DOT made small but substantial changes in relation to Alitalia's potential participation in the agreement.

"The approved alliance will remove the existing gaps preventing full coordination between Delta’s two existing immunized parallel joint ventures with Virgin on the one hand, and Air France/KLM on the other. As part of this decision, we are also revoking our previous, now obsolete, grants of ATI among the Joint Applicants as well as CSA Czech Airlines (OK, Prague Václav Havel) and Alitalia after six months," the DOT said in its final decision.

Delta initially sought to secure the right to cooperate with Alitalia on the basis of the existing ATI dating back to 2008 while the future of the Italian airline is being worked out. The American carrier also sought to leave a path for Alitalia to join the revised joint venture once it is recapitalised.

However, among many other objections, JetBlue Airways (B6, New York JFK) commented that "such a request is legally impermissible and procedurally invalid".

The DOT agreed with jetBlue and said that it was trying to simplify the regulatory framework by establishing just a single antitrust decision governing the complex combination of applicant airlines.

"Once the Amended JVA becomes effective, the preceding agreements that outlined Alitalia's cooperation with the other parties will cease to exist, removing the underlying predicate for immunity. The Department is aware that Delta is seeking to reach commercial terms with Alitalia to continue cooperation under the Amended JVA; however, the Joint Applicants' request to include Alitalia in its revised joint venture is premature," the DOT said.

The Department pointed out that it could not make any determination on Alitalia's future membership in the joint venture without knowing the details of the airline's commercial agreement with Delta.

"If the Joint Applicants and Alitalia come to a commercial agreement before the six-month wind-down period expires, they may petition the Department to extend the immunity at that time and the Department will evaluate the request in the docket with all due process," the DOT added.

While the condition similarly affects CSA Czech Airlines (OK, Prague Václav Havel), the carrier has no plans to participate in the amended joint venture as it does not currently fly across the Atlantic.

However, the DOT dismissed all other objections raised by jetBlue, including complaints about restricted access to London Heathrow, London Gatwick, and Amsterdam Schiphol airports.

The DOT also dismissed objections raised by cargo specialist Kalitta Air (K4, Detroit Willow Run), which sought to make the ATI conditional on securing Kalitta's access to Amsterdam. The airline has been denied its historic slots at the Dutch gateway after repeated non-compliance with the schedule.

"Kalitta has failed to demonstrate how a slot remedy in this proceeding would resolve its operational issues that are the root cause of its access issues, or how approval of the Amended JVA will cause it any particular harm that should be addressed through a slot remedy," the DOT said.

The DOT also changed the wording of the order to clarify that it does not affect the existing joint venture between Delta Air Lines and Korean Air (KE, Seoul Incheon).