Virgin Atlantic is set to ramp up the pressure on rival British Airways after selling a 49 per cent stake in the business to Delta Air Lines.
Delta is paying $360 million (£223.5m) for Singapore Airlines’ share of Virgin and has agreed to form a joint venture with Sir Richard Branson’s carrier in a bid to boost its share of the London-to-New York market. Singapore paid £600m for its stake in 1999.
There had been speculation that Delta’s European partner, Air France-KLM, was seeking to buy part of Branson’s 51 per cent holding in Virgin, leaving him without majority control, but he stressed the airline would retain its “independent spirit”. He said: “It signals the start of an era of expansion, financial growth and opportunities for our customers and our business.”
A row between Branson and Willie Walsh – chief executive of BA owner IAG – broke out earlier this week, with Walsh predicting that the Virgin brand would vanish if Delta came on board. But Branson said he was prepared to bet the BA boss £1m that Virgin Atlantic will not disappear within five years.