Virgin Atlantic in sights
of US’s Delta Airlines

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America’s largest airline, Delta, is plotting to take control of
Virgin Atlantic after making a secret approach to the British carrier’s Asian shareholder.

The Atlanta, Georgia-based carrier is understood to have
offered to buy Singapore Airlines’ 49 per cent stake in Virgin. If it succeeds, Delta’s European partner, Air France-KLM, may then buy part of Sir Richard Branson’s 51 per cent stake, seeing its founder lose control of the airline for the first time.

Sir Richard, who set up Virgin Atlantic in 1984, has been weighing the airline’s future for years and two years ago appointed Deutsche Bank to examine offers.

“We are always talking to many airlines on a number of different matters but we never comment on the details of these discussions,” a Virgin Atlantic spokeswoman said yesterday.

It is understood Delta and Air France-KLM came close to a deal to buy Virgin Atlantic in February last year but talks broke down over price and Sir Richard’s rights over the Virgin brand. Singapore paid £600 million for its stake in 1999.

Delta exited “chapter 11”, an American form of bankruptcy protection, in 1997 after a multi-billion dollar restructuring. It is now the biggest US airline by passenger numbers, carrying 160 million people a year, ahead of Chicago-based United Airlines. Delta was not available for