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Royal wedding? BA has eye on Virgin Atlantic

In a deal that could change industry equations, British Airways (BA) has said it would be interested in acquiring long-time rival Virgin Atlantic. Tushar Srivastava reports.

india Updated: Mar 15, 2011 21:44 IST
Tushar Srivastava

In a deal that could change industry equations, British Airways (BA) has said it would be interested in acquiring long-time rival Virgin Atlantic.

In an exclusive interview with Hindustan Times at the BA headquarters in London, Judy Jarvis, the airline's regional commercial manager for South Asia, said the British airline was interested in acquiring its rival, particularly the "valuable slots" that Virgin, led by flamboyant billionaire Richard Branson, has at London's Heathrow airport.

"I don't think BA would be interested in buying Virgin as a brand proposition," she said. "We would like them for their slots. In terms of value proposition to BA it would be more about the slots that they could offer us rather than as a brand. They have a lot of valuable slots at Heathrow and any airline would be foolish not to look at them."

She replied in the affirmative when asked if anything was possible in the coming days.

"Two head-to-head rivals getting together would be unprecedented in (the history of)UK airlines. Virgin Atlantic would loathe to be seen as "giving in" or selling to its great and long-time rival," said Saj Ahmad, London-based airline analyst from FBE Aerospace.

British Airways is UK's largest international scheduled airline. It had 238 aircraft in service at the end of March 2010. In December, Virgin, which currently has a fleet of 38 aircraft, hired Deutsche Bank to carry out a review that could result in a sale or see the airline join an alliance.

"Virgin operates to the USA, North Africa, the Middle East and Asia and has some 30-plus key routes under its belt while holding a small 3% share of slots at Heathrow although these are highly lucrative not just because of the airport, but because of the flight slots that it holds for key morning/afternoon departures and arrivals," said Ahmad.

"Of course there is a lot of interest as we are a strong business with a formidable position at both London Gatwick and Heathrow. However, we would never comment on any detail at this time," said Greg Dawson, director, corporate communications, Virgin Atlantic, in an email to HT.

(The writer's travel and stay were sponsored by British Airways)