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Logos sit on the tailfins of Virgin Atlantic aircraft at Gatwick airport in Crawley, UK, on Thursday, Jan. 10, 2013.

Virgin Atlantic gets funding offers, renews plea for UK aid

Logos sit on the tailfins of Virgin Atlantic aircraft at Gatwick airport in Crawley, UK, on Thursday, Jan. 10, 2013.

Virgin Atlantic Airways Ltd is seeking UK Government support for a revised rescue package after attracting private offers for hundreds of millions of pounds in funding, people with knowledge of the situation said.

The cash-strapped carrier is waiting to hear whether Britain will provide guarantees for proposals including a revolving credit facility, the people said, asking not to be named as the talks are private. Chief Executive Officer Shai Weiss’s pitch to potential backers led to offers from more than one financial institution, the people said.

Virgin Atlantic’s lack of an investment-grade credit rating means it can’t tap Britain’s main Covid Corporate Financing Facility. The Department for Transport told the carrier it should seek private funding, including from founder Richard Branson, before the Government would consider underwriting a bespoke package. While the 69-year-old billionaire has pledged more cash, the airline also needs an outside investor to secure its survival.

Founder of Virgin Atlantic Airways Ltd Richard Branson (Photo: Bloomberg)

Virgin Atlantic said it’s continuing to explore all available options for obtaining external funding.

“Constructive discussions with a number of stakeholders are progressing,” a spokeswoman said. “Meanwhile the airline remains in a stable position.”

The Department for Transport said it doesn’t comment on commercial matters.

European airlines have tapped €32 billion (US$36 billion) in state loans, guarantees and equity to help them survive the coronavirus crisis. Britain has been more reluctant to splurge on aid than countries like France or Germany. Virgin’s long-haul focus adds to its peril, leaving it exposed to markets that may take years to recover. The carrier has parked its fleet and said it will cut 3,150 jobs while shutting its London Gatwick hub to reposition for a diminished market.

Virgin Atlantic Airways Ltd Chief Executive Officer Shai Weiss (Photo: Bloomberg)

Government support — controversial given Branson’s tax residence outside the UK — is pivotal to Virgin’s survival plan. The airline would need to revisit the private offers if the UK balks again at joining in on a rescue, one of the people said. Restructuring specialist Alvarez & Marsal has been working on a so-called pre-packaged administration should no support be forthcoming, Bloomberg has reported.

Following an investor search led by Houlihan Lokey, Weiss pitched his recovery plan to 12 parties including Deutsche Bank AG, Apollo Global Management, Cerberus Capital Management, Centerbridge Partners, Elliott Management, Davidson Kempner and Greybull Capital. He made further presentations to four remaining institutions last month.

The trans-Atlantic specialist’s turnaround plan is based on securing around £750 million pounds (US$947 million) to shore up liquidity.

A Virgin Atlantic aircraft taxis after landing at London Gatwick Airport in Crawley, UK in 2017. The carrier has parked its fleet and said it will cut 3,150 jobs while shutting its London Gatwick hub to reposition for a diminished market.
(Photo: Simon Dawson/Bloomberg)

Virgin Atlantic initially targeted about £250 million in private or State-backed funding, together with the same amount in government guarantees for credit card receipts to free up payments being held back by merchant service providers that would otherwise be on the hook should the airline collapse.

Branson is also set to contribute, having raised more than US$400 million to support his various companies by selling shares of space venture Virgin Galactic Holdings Inc. Co-owner Delta Air Lines Inc could defer some outstanding fees, people familiar with the matter have said.

The British Airline Pilots’ Association said separately following negotiations with the company that some 300 cockpit crew are likely to be made redundant in September. They’ll receive payoffs while going into a holding pool for potential return if plans permit.

Virgin said it’s also reached an agreement with the Unite union, representing cabin crew, and has communicated the outcome of the impact on jobs to staff.

— Bloomberg