BRUSSELS (Reuters) - EU antitrust regulators are expected to give unconditional approval to Delta Air Lines to buy a 49 percent stake in Virgin Atlantic, allowing it to compete better with U.S. rivals, three people with knowledge of the matter said on Monday.

Delta and Virgin Atlantic announced the deal in December last year. It involves setting up a joint venture allowing both carriers to offer more flights at Heathrow, Europe's busiest airport.

The agreement is also intended to boost Delta's ability to better compete with industry leader United Continental and American Airlines, whose partnership with British Airways dominates travel between the United States and London.

"The European Commission is likely to approve the deal without conditions," said one of the sources, who declined to be identified because of the sensitivity of the matter.

(Reporting by Foo Yun Chee; editing by Rex Merrifield)

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