Branson Virgin on an airline tie-up?

The beardy entrepreneur says the only way for Virgin Atlantic to compete with the likes of BA is to find another airline to partner. But has he missed the boat?

by Emma Haslett
Last Updated: 26 May 2011
Over the past few years, consolidation has been the name of the game in the airline industry, which has seen profits hit by everything from volcanic ash, bad weather and shinking spending. And now Virgin Atlantic owner Richard Branson, the very model of entrepreneurial self-reliance, has admitted that he, too, might not be able to fly solo for much longer. There are no firm details as yet, but Branson is clearly worried about his airline’s ability to compete with rivals like British Airways, which formed its Oneworld alliance (including the likes of American Airlines, Qantas and Finnair) last year.

In an interview on Bloomberg Television yesterday, Branson said it’s ‘too early to say’ whether he’ll sell off any of his 51% stake in the airline, but he claimed that partnership talks are going well. ‘I think we will be able to announce within a few months an alliance partner,’ he said (which sounds oddly German, no?).

So it sounds like he’s considering forming his own alliance – despite the fact that Singapore Airlines, the proud owner of the other 49% of Virgin Atlantic, is part of the Star Alliance, which also includes Continental and Air Canada. Seems odd – but when you take into account that the point of the alliances is to allow airlines to sell seats on routes that they don’t already fly (and both those airlines operate the transatlantic routes Virgin operates), Virgin Atlantic might be coming a bit late to that particular party.

Branson's full of bright ideas at the moment. Having apparently decided that conquering space (via Virgin Galactic) isn’t enough of a challenge, Branson's also now setting his sights on the depths of the oceans with a new venture called Virgin Oceanic. This will involve a new one-man submarine which will, in theory, allow people to visit and explore previously unreachable parts of the ocean. The tiny craft, dubbed the ‘Necker Nymph’ (after Branson’s private island, natch) will be able to reach depths of 10km and sustain life for 24 hours. So if the whole airline thing doesn't work out, there's always a fall-back.

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