Singapore Airlines in talks to sell stake in Virgin Atlantic

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 04 December, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 04 December, 2012, 3:10am

Singapore Airlines says it is in talks to sell its 49 per cent stake in Virgin Atlantic after people familiar with the matter said Delta Air Lines was discussing buying shares.

The talks with "interested parties" might not result in a transaction, SIA said yesterday. Delta was discussing buying part or all of the stake, said the people who asked not to be named as the matter is private. Delta's partner Air-France KLM might also take a stake.

Richard Branson controls 51 per cent of Virgin.

SIA may exit the British carrier after 13 years as Virgin struggles with rising fuel prices and increased competition from British Airways at Heathrow Airport.

For Delta, the second-biggest airline in the United States, a deal would increase access to Europe's busiest airport and boost its ability to capture lucrative transatlantic business traffic.

"Virgin Atlantic has some interesting slots at Heathrow and slots are a very scarce commodity in the UK," said Arnaud Bouchet, a Singapore-based analyst at BNP Paribas. This might be "an interesting opportunity" for SIA to sell its stake.

Delta, Virgin and Air France-KLM declined to comment. The Delta talks were reported by the Sunday Times.

SIA paid £600.3 million for the Virgin stake in 1999.

Virgin has been seeking partners and in 2010 hired Deutsche Bank to assess options. The carrier posted a pre-tax loss of £80.2 million (HK$996.6 million) for the year ended February.

The airline is adding short-haul routes to Heathrow from British cities including Manchester to feed services to Asia and the US. It is also seeking a replacement for chief executive Steve Ridgway, who retires early next year after 11 years in the post.