Etihad eyes Richard Branson’s Virgin Atlantic stake

Etihad eyes Richard Branson’s Virgin Atlantic stake

Abu Dhabi’s Etihad Airways, voted “World’s Leading Airline” by World Travel Awards, has expressed “top level interest” in Sir Richard Branson’s stake in Virgin Atlantic, which was put on the market in November.

Etihad’s CEO James Hogan has written to Branson’s advisor, Deutsche Bank, to express interest in buying a controlling stake in Virgin, according The Times.

However an Etihad spokesperson remained tight lipped about the approach, saying: “We have no comment other than that we talk regularly and frequently to many airlines and a range of other businesses from all over the world about business issues and opportunities.”

Virgin Atlantic instructed Deutsche Bank to put the airline on the market in November, describing it as “underperforming” investment.


(Flying high: Etihad was voted “World’s Leading Airline” at 2010 World Travel Awards)

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Last week Sir Richard reconfirmed that he might sell his 51 percent controlling stake in the London-based carrier he founded in 1984, saying the airline would need more than an alliance if it was to compete on a level playing field with the likes of British Airways and Lufthansa.

The remaining 49 percent stake in Virgin Atlantic is held by Singapore Airlines, following a $930m deal in 2000.

Etihad last month said it would increase frequencies on routes from Abu Dhabi to key European cities, such as Paris and Milan, in a bid to secure a greater slice of the corporate travel market.

UAE carrier Etihad is currently the world’s fastest growing airlines. Last week it announced a 29 percent rise in revenues to $2.95bn in 2010, and has said it aims to reach profitability by 2012.

In December it said it would increase frequencies on routes from its Abu Dhabi base to key European cities, including Paris and Milan, in a bid to secure a greater slice of the corporate travel market.

A deal with Virgin Atlantic would provide key slice in Europe’s main aviation hub, London, including lucrative slots to America and the Caribbean.

Etihad was voted “World’s Leading Airline” for the second year in succession at the 2010 World Travel Awards. It also picked up “World’s Leading Airline First Class”. This followed a clean sweep at the World Travel Awards 2010 Middle East Ceremony where it won a host of honours including “Middle East’s Leading Airline” and “Middle East’s Leading Cabin Staff”.