VIRGIN Atlantic is considering acquiring the assets of cash-strapped AB Airlines after the troubled carrier was forced to call in the administrators.
The move follows the suspension of AB's shares at 13p from a float price last year of 95p. The administrators were then called in after the airline cancelled an issue of new shares to raise £2.2m.
A spokesman for Virgin confirmed the airline's interest in the Gatwick-based carrier which is valued at around £3.5m.
He said: "We are looking at all the assets and operations of AB. Virgin already has a relationship with AB after we enabled it to keep trading."
Virgin paid £2m for some of AB's Gatwick slots last May.
The transaction came after AB revealed losses in the year to November 30 1998 had risen to £10.6m from £2.25m in 1996/'97.
Virgin is planning expansion at Gatwick and needs extra slots for new services. AB has eight daily slots at Gatwick for its Shannon and Nice operations.
AB also has three BAC1-11s and three Boeing 737s, which Virgin could transfer to its Virgin Express airline.
British Airways said it was not interested in acquiring AB.
The appointment of administrators BDO Stoy Hayward at AB caps an already very difficult year.
Increased competition from rival airlines led to the airline dropping flights to Lisbon and Berlin, in addition to Shannon services from Stansted and Birmingham.
This has left AB with just thrice-daily services to Shannon and a daily flight to Nice from Gatwick which are continuing as normal.
Commercial director Robert Hardless left the airline in May, a month after the commercial team was made redundant, and former chairman Brian Beal stepped down last month.
A spokesman for BDO Stoy Hayward would not say which carriers it was talking to or how many were interested in buying the airline's assets.
He said a sale of AB was planned for as soon as possible, but there was no timescale.
The spokesman added employees were continuing to work as normal and there had not been any redundancies since the administrators were called in.
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