Branson says Virgin Atlantic fully funded

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The Independent Online

Sir Richard Branson bucked the gloom surrounding the aviation industry yesterday by saying his carrier Virgin Atlantic would survive the crisis without having to raise new funds.

Speculation has mounted that Singapore Airlines, which has a 49 per cent stake in Virgin Atlantic, would have to bail the group out. But, at the launch of Virgin Mobile Asia, in Singapore, Sir Richard said: "We have got the necessary resources at Virgin Atlantic so we weren't discussing those kind of issues."

He said Virgin Group's 51 per cent stake in the airline would not be sold "no matter what happens". "We'll just have to sell more mobile phones," he added

Since 11 September, the airline industry has slumped as passenger numbers fall and security issues increase. Immediately after the attacks, Virgin Atlantic cut 1,200 jobs.

Sir Richard said yesterday business class passenger numbers had fallen 30 per cent while economy traffic was down 15 per cent.

On Thursday, Virgin Express – the Belgian-based airline part-owned by Virgin – said it was considering snapping up parts of ailing national airline Sabena, although talks are at an early stage. Sir Richard said Virgin's Australian domestic carrier, Virgin Blue, was also doing better than expected. "We will almost definitely float next year. Virgin Blue's prospects are superb. It's one of the most profitable airlines in the world."

Virgin Blue has hired Goldman Sachs as its financial adviser. "There's a lot of people who have expressed interest through Goldman Sachs so we may do a pre-float placing with Virgin Blue ... and then do a proper float at the end of next year," Sir Richard added.

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