Richard Branson seeking buyer for Virgin Atlantic

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Richard Branson is seeking a buyer for Virgin Atlantic Airways as he struggles to secure a 500 million pound ($618 million) government bailout, the Telegraph reported.

Branson has set an end of May deadline to save the UK airline from collapse and is focused on securing new private investment from more than 100 financial institutions, the newspaper quoted people familiar as saying.

"Houlihan Lokey has been appointed to assist the process, focusing on private-sector funding," a Virgin Atlantic spokeswoman said. "Discussions with a number of stakeholders continue and are constructive, meanwhile the airline remains in a stable position."

Virgin’s application for government aid has effectively been shelved, though negotiations could be revived if investment can’t be found elsewhere, the newspaper reported.

About 50 investors have asked for information and they will be narrowed down to a handful of bidders, according to the report. Centerbridge Partners, Cerberus Capital Management, Lansdowne Partners, Singapore sovereign wealth fund Temasek and Northill Capital are among those in the running.

Delta Air Lines, which owns a 49% stake in Virgin Atlantic and is consumed with its own pandemic-related problems, has already bumped up against UK limits on foreign airline ownership, the US company’s chief executive officer, Ed Bastian, said Thursday.

Branson, 69, has become the highest-profile victim of an airline-industry crisis that’s only just getting started. Virgin Australia, another carrier he founded, entered administration last week after failing to obtain a state bailout.

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