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Branson bets British Airways boss 1 million pounds that the Virgin brand will survive

Skift Take

The Virgin brand is one of the biggest commodity that the airline has to offer and a huge pull in Delta trying to acquire Singapore’s shares to tap into the routes and gates that Virgin serves.

— Samantha Shankman

Richard Branson said his Virgin Atlantic Airways Ltd. brand is “not going anywhere” after Singapore Airlines Ltd. revealed last week that it was in talks to sell its 49 percent holding in the U.K. carrier.

Reports that Branson is about to give up control of Virgin Atlantic and comments from International Consolidated Airlines Group suggesting the brand may disappear are “wishful thinking and totally misguided,” the billionaire said on his blog.

“Virgin Atlantic is still much cherished,” Branson said on the Virgin.com website. “It has grown into a wonderful airline which has punched above its weight for almost three decades. We intend to carry on doing so for many years to come.”

Talks are under way for Delta Air Lines Inc. to acquire Singapore Air’s Virgin stake, two people familiar with the matter have said. An agreement could let Virgin form a trans- Atlantic venture with Delta and SkyTeam alliance partner Air France-KLM Group to serve London’s Heathrow airport.

IAG Chief Executive Officer Willie Walsh said during a visit to Seoul that Virgin Atlantic’s name could be erased if Delta buys the Singapore stake and Air France-KLM buys part of Branson’s own holding, the Daily Telegraph reported yesterday, citing an interview. IAG spokeswoman Lorena Monsalves confirmed the comments.

Branson said on his blog that he’ll pay 1 million pounds ($1.6 million) to employees of IAG’s British Airways unit “if Virgin Atlantic disappears within, say, five years.”

If that doesn’t happen, he added, BA should pay Virgin staff the same amount.

Air France-KLM is not participating in any discussions between Atlanta-based Delta and Singapore Air, spokeswoman Brigitte Barrand said today in e-mailed message, reiterating comments from the carrier at an investor day in Paris that’s closed to reporters.

Editors: Chris Jasper, Chad Thomas.

To contact the reporters on this story: Mathieu Rosemain in Paris at mrosemain@bloomberg.net; Kari Lundgren in London at klundgren2@bloomberg.net. To contact the editor responsible for this story: Chad Thomas at cthomas16@bloomberg.net.

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