alliances

Jul 28, 2017

Branson gives up control of Virgin Atlantic cheaply, what does this mean for his brand?

Branson has sold off his control in Virgin Atlantic, a move that may well add to uncertainty about Virgin Australia's future ownership structure

Ben Sandilands — Editor of Plane Talking

Ben Sandilands

Editor of Plane Talking

Quite possibly the start of the end for Branson’s brand in 2013, when he launched Little Red, a UK LCC that failed badly

Virgin Australia has even more to think about this morning following the financial filings from its Middle East and Singaporean stake holders, with its co-founder Richard Branson selling off control over Virgin Atlantic for what looks like a low ball price.

This story, just on the Financial Times site, has not only the details, but that sad and pathetic underpants photo in 2013 that raised questions about his powers of judgement and continued relevance to aviation.

Branson owns 10 percent of Virgin Australia Holdings, alongside one fifth stakes held by Singapore Airlines, Etihad, HNA and Nanshan Group.

In filings yesterday Air France KLM is buying 31 percent of Virgin Atlantic from Richard Branson, who had sold 49 percent of that airline to US carrier Delta in 2012, giving it invaluable additional access to slot restricted London Heathrow Airport.

That leaves Branson with a minority 20 percent stake in Virgin Atlantic, while Delta and China Eastern both buy 10 percent stakes in Air France KLM, which gains an additional €751 million in capitol from those transactions.

The statements quoted in the FT story dress up these moves as creating a powerful trans-Atlantic alliance to take on longer ranging low cost carrier operations like those of Norwegian which close followers may have noted is showing its own signs of becoming financially stressed by selling its seats too cheaply.

The capacity of Air France KLM to differentiate their product from European low cost brands like Ryanair and easyJet is questionable, as they now offer options for business travelers that are often roomier and cheaper than those the French and Dutch legacy brands claim to be superior full service options.

None of this may be of direct relevance to Australian domestic flyers. But Branson has already relinquished his once total, and later, substantial stakes in Virgin Blue prior to its rebranding as Virgin Australia. His residual equity in VAH may shrink further, or even disappear.

Whatever else might be said about the challenges Virgin Australia faces, it needs unified and active support by its key stakeholders, and a plan to retain the loyalty of hard won corporate customers as the airlines shifts its popular wide body A330s and smaller Embraer E-jets off its domestic network in favor of putting those customers back into single aisle 737s.

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