British Airways has had its long-awaited merger with Iberia and subsequent tie-up with American Airlines approved by the European Commission.The airlines are now waiting for final regulatory approval from the US Department of Transport, having already received an initial go-ahead in earlier this year.
The EC decision paves the way for the BA-Iberia merger to be formally ratified in the autumn.
The airlines have agreed to the merger in principle, though Iberia will only go through with the deal when it is satisfied that BA has brought is burgeoning pension fund deficit under control.
BA is, however, believed to be close to reaching a satisfactory conclusion to its pension conundrum.
Meanwhile, rival airline and critic of the merger, Virgin Atlantic, has reacted to the EC decision by saying it will "continue to fight for the consumer and choice".
Sir Richard Branson, the airline's president, said: "We have fought this monster monopoly for the past thirteen years and are still resolute in our belief that this decision is shameful and consumers will suffer greatly as a result of this deal.
"The European Commission has let consumers down by agreeing to paltry remedies which are wholly inadequate.
"Luckily for the competition authorities, Virgin Atlantic will continue to compete to win passenger and corporate business despite this massively uneven playing field which we are forced to compete on."
Speaking after today's announcement BA boss Willie Walsh said it was a "vital step" towards the three-way venture, and said slots owned by the alliance would soon be made available to competitors.
"The high number of new services on London to US routes since the Open Skies agreement demonstrates that Heathrow is open," said Walsh.
"Between us, we have agreed to make available Heathrow slot pairs for our competitors to use on services to the US.
"This is a pragmatic decision so that we can get the joint business up and running as soon as possible. The slot commitments provide a further guarantee that there will be no possible loss of competition as a result of our joint business."
BA said slots will be made available if competitor airlines are unable to acquire them through the normal process and added that London-New York slots will only have to be made available if the number of services on the route drops below the currently announced levels.