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Branson jets into executive market

Richard Branson is entering the executive jet business in partnership with one of the team who was to have joined the Virgin chairman in his attempt to circumnavigate the globe by balloon.

Virgin and the McCarthy Corporation, a London-based leisure and technology investment group, are today expected to announce the formation of Virgin Executive Aviation.

The new company will be owned 50:50 and will initially have two executive jets based at Heathrow and a fleet of eight helicopters based at Wycombe Air Park in Buckinghamshire. It has also acquired the London Air Ambulance helicopter.

The intention is to offer an executive jet service to Virgin Atlantic customers flying Upper Class into Heathrow and Gatwick and then needing to get elsewhere fast.

The helicopter fleet, formerly owned by McCarthy Corporation but being renamed Virgin Helicopters, will be used to ferry passengers between London's Battersea heliport and Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted and for special charters.

McCarthy Corporation has a stock market listing in Canada and is chaired by the brothers Rory and Tim McCarthy. Rory, who holds the world freefall parachute record, was to have flown with Mr Branson on his round-the-world balloon attempt but was forced to drop out at the last minute because of illness.

Initial investment in Virgin Executive Aviation will be pounds 10m. The executive jet service will be launched this summer with one HS 125-800 jet and one Cessna Citation V jet which have a cruising speed of 410 knots. They can carry 8-10 passengers and will have enough range to fly from London to Moscow or Marrakech. The jets will fly in Virgin colours and have dedicated Virgin cabin crews.

McCarthy Corporation has investments ranging from the Smolensky chain of restaurants and Cafe Spice to Victory Corporation, a cosmetics and casual wear group floating on the AIM market shortly, and a telecoms company TCS. It also owns 75 per cent of Lindstrand Balloons.

Rory McCarthy, chairman of McCarthy Corporation, said the aim was to expand the business swiftly to exploit the reputation of Virgin's Upper Class Service.