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Branson open to total sale of Virgin Australia

08 may 2013, 12:57
0
Virgin Galactic's Richard Branson (C). ©AFP PHOTO / Mark Greenberg
Virgin Galactic's Richard Branson (C). ©AFP PHOTO / Mark Greenberg
Virgin Group chief Richard Branson has aired the possibility of selling his entire stake in budget carrier Virgin Australia, saying the airline's branding is more important to him than ownership, AFP reports.

Branson, who founded Virgin Australia as a rival to Qantas in 2000, sold a 10 percent share to Singapore Airlines last month, leaving him with 13 percent.

The British billionaire refused to rule out selling his remaining stake, telling reporters "we will see" when asked about his future plans for the Australian carrier.

"I'm not too worried about whether we sell down most of our stakes," Branson said in remarks published by Australian media Wednesday.

"The 13 percent is pretty strategic in that it could be very valuable to a player one day, but it's not that important from the Virgin Group's point of view."

Asked whether he would sell for the right price to fellow major stakeholder Etihad, Branson said: "We would cross that bridge if it came."

He said the "most important thing is the branding" -- the long-term royalties contract with the airline to use the Virgin name.

If Branson's latest 10 percent sale to Singapore Airlines gets the nod from Australia's Foreign Investments Review Board, it will make the Asian carrier one of Virgin's top three stakeholders alongside Virgin Group and Air New Zealand.

Abu Dhabi-based Etihad also holds a significant share, giving Virgin Australia hefty financial clout to contend domestically with Qantas.

Branson said it was remarkable that so many firms had an interest in Virgin, the second-largest carrier in Australia which has a lucrative air market due to its vast size and booming dollar.

Last year, Qantas and Emirates announced a major global alliance that opens up the Australian firm's domestic network of more than 50 destinations and nearly 5,000 flights per week to the Dubai-based airline.

Singapore Airlines is a key international competitor to Qantas, and it also recently sealed a deal for Virgin to buy a majority stake in Tiger Airways Australia, its loss-making local budget subsidiary.

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