Government Help Needed For Virgin Airlines To Survive, Branson Says

Virgin Group chairman Richard Branson.
Credit: Virgin Group

LONDON—Virgin Group chairman Richard Branson is saying Virgin Atlantic and Virgin Australia will need government support if they are to survive the COVID-19 crisis and keep competition alive in markets that would otherwise become effective monopolies.

In an open letter to staff April 20, Branson said press comments about his wealth were misjudged. Sections of the media have asked whether the mogul should use his own multi-millions to fund the airlines, rather than seeking government aid.

In his letter, Branson noted that the Virgin Group was “operating in many of the hardest hit sectors, including aviation, leisure, hotels and cruises. We’re doing all we can to keep those businesses afloat. We have already committed a quarter of a billion dollars to help our businesses and protect jobs and will continue to invest all we can.” 

Branson said the Group and management at Virgin Atlantic would do everything possible to keep the airline going, “but we will need government support to achieve that in the face of the severe uncertainty surrounding travel today and not knowing how long the planes will be grounded for.”

He was not looking for a grant, Branson said. “This would be in the form of a commercial loan. It wouldn’t be free money and the airline would pay it back,” he said. “The reality of this unprecedented crisis is that many airlines around the world need government support and many have already received it. Without it there won’t be any competition left and hundreds of thousands more jobs will be lost, along with critical connectivity and huge economic value. Virgin Atlantic started with one plane 36 years ago. Over those years it has created real competition for British Airways, which must remain fierce for the benefit of our ... customers and the public at large.”

Regarding Australia, Branson said “the same is true ... the Virgin Australia team is fighting to survive and need support to get through this catastrophic global crisis. If Virgin Australia disappears, Qantas would effectively have a monopoly of the Australian skies. We all know what that would lead to.”

Branson noted that he was aware of many press comments about his financial worth, “but that is calculated on the value of Virgin businesses around the world before this crisis, not sitting as cash in a bank account ready to withdraw.” 

“Over the years significant profits have never been taken out of the Virgin Group, instead they have been reinvested in building businesses that create value and opportunities. The challenge right now is that there is no money coming in and lots going out,” Branson said. “Today, the cash we have in the Virgin Group and my personal wealth is being invested across many companies around the world to protect as many jobs as possible, with a big part of that going to Virgin Atlantic.”

Alan Dron

Based in London, Alan is Europe & Middle East correspondent at Air Transport World.