Branson to sue if BA does not meet demands

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The Independent Online
RICHARD Branson is in the US consulting advisers about taking legal action against British Airways if it fails to agree to his demands for restitution for the dirty tricks campaign against his airline.

Mr Branson has made it clear to BA that he expects an answer to his proposals from Sir Colin Marshall - who took over as BA's chairman on Friday - when he returns to Britain on Thursday. If the response is unsatisfactory, Virgin is likely to begin legal proceedings here and in the US, where it is likely to use the services of Bob Beckman, the US lawyer who acted for Laker Airways, the collapsed airline headed by Sir Freddie Laker, in its anti-trust action against BA.

Virgin is asking for some of BA's slots at London's Heathrow airport; compensation for the commercial damage caused by the dirty tricks campaign; and a written undertaking that BA will not repeat its action. BA has not yet given any indication of its response to the demands.

Virgin believes an early answer is essential as it could affect its pounds 1bn plan to double its fleet by leasing a further eight Airbus A340s and Boeing 747-400 planes.

It is keen to launch a daily service to San Francisco from Heathrow, which would require 14 slots.

Talks between the two companies continued over the weekend between Robert Ayling - who was elevated from marketing director to managing director of BA on Friday - and Virgin's Syd Pennington. A further meeting is scheduled for today.

Meanwhile, there was mounting speculation that Lord White would resign as a non-executive director of BA in the wake of Lord King's resignation as chairman. Lord White, co-founder of the Hanson empire, is a close friend of Lord King - who is staying on as president. Lord White could not be contacted for comment.

There is also speculation that Charles Price II, the former American ambassador to Britain - who is also on the Hanson board - would resign his BA seat.