DUBAI: Richard Branson’s Virgin Atlantic is open to the possibility of an east-focused alliance with a major Gulf carrier, similar to its recent partnership with US carrier Delta Air Line, its CEO said.
This summer Delta’s $360 million bid to buy Singapore Airlines’ 49 per cent stake in Virgin Atlantic was given the stamp of approval by both the US Justice Department and the European Commission and late last month it was reported the agreement is on track to clear its final hurdle and receive immunity from US antitrust laws to operate a planned trans-Atlantic joint venture.
Former American Airlines executive Craig Kreeger, who was appointed CEO of Virgin Atlantic in February and is the first American to hold the post, said he had not ruled out an alliance with a Gulf carrier in order to boost the London-based carrier’s network in the east.
“We have a number of partners around the world. The question as to whether a Middle East carrier would make sense as an alliance partner, or some form of relationship, is one to be determined.”
Kreeger pointed out Virgin Atlantic already has interlining deals — which is a commercial agreement between individual airlines to handle passengers travelling on itineraries that require multiple airlines - with several Middle Eastern carriers, including Oman Air, Gulf Air, Qatar Airways, Emirates and Saudi Arabian Airlines.
“We do have some opportunities today and take advantage of those. Whether we will choose to create an expanded relationship with some others is to be determined.”
If an alliance with a Gulf carrier was to happen, Abu Dhabi’s Etihad Airways would seem the most likely candidate. Virgin Atlantic’s codesharing partners Virgin Australia and India’s Jet Airways are already part owned by Etihad. Singapore Airlines and Air New Zealand also have strong links to both carriers. On paper, Etihad would seem the most likely candidate, but Kreeger declined to speak about any specific possible partnership arrangements.