Etihad Airways boss James Hogan ruled out a takeover of Virgin Atlantic, but declined to deny an interest in buying a stake in the carrier yesterday.
Speaking at the Business Travel Market in London, the Etihad chief executive said: “We have looked at a range of business opportunities over the last 12 months, including other airlines, and are continuing to look. If we see an opportunity to invest in a business, we will look at it, but not in order to control a business.”
Travel Weekly reported in January that Hogan had expressed an interest in Virgin Atlantic, after Virgin president Sir Richard Branson hired Deutsche Bank to explore potential takeover or investment candidates. US carrier Delta Air Lines also expressed interest.
Virgin Atlantic is owned jointly by Branson and Singapore Airlines, which has a 49% stake. Etihad already has a partnership deal with Virgin Australia, signed last summer. Hogan said: “We have a long-term marketing agreement with Virgin Australia.” However, he added: “We also work with six Star Alliance airlines.”
Hogan rejected a suggestion that Etihad is subsidised by the ruling family of Abu Dhabi, saying: “There is no subsidy – and there is no free fuel. I get cheaper fuel in Singapore.”
He conceded that recent changes to export credit rules in Europe and the US had made the purchase of aircraft more expensive for Gulf carriers, following complaints by airlines such as British Airways. Etihad announced an aircraft order worth $43 billion in 2008.
Hogan said: “There has been an impact on our financial charges, but we accept that. It is part of business.” He confirmed Etihad will operate an Airbus A380 from Heathrow from 2014 when the first of the 10 the carrier has on order is due for delivery.
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