Virgin Atlantic to start pitching to 12 firms for investment amid administration threat

The airline seeks to avoid collapse with air travel effectively grounded and the UK government reluctant to provide emergency funding

A Boeing Co. 747 passenger aircraft, operated by Virgin Atlantic Airways Ltd takes off at London Gatwick Airport in Crawley, U.K., on Tuesday, Jan. 10, 2017. Discount airlines are piling on passengers using bargain-basement pricing even as a sluggish economy and the threat of terror attacks clips demand. Photographer: Simon Dawson/Bloomberg

Virgin Atlantic Airways will begin pitching to potential investors on Monday as it seeks to avoid collapse with air travel effectively grounded and the UK government reluctant to provide emergency funding, according to a source.

The talks follow the UK carrier’s appointment of restructuring specialist Alvarez & Marsal to develop contingency plans for a so-called pre-packaged administration should it fail to secure financial backing, the source said.

Virgin Atlantic chief executive Shai Weiss will set out the company’s survival plans and strategy to 12 firms that have emerged as serious contenders for investment out of 100 originally sounded out by Houlihan Lokey, the source added.

The carrier founded by billionaire Richard Branson has enough cash to survive through the summer, but it is likely to have a better idea about its viability in the next week or two, including a bid to secure about 500 million pounds (Dh2.28 billion) in state support. British Airways and EasyJet have so far succeeded in tapping UK funding, but a special case would need to be made for Virgin because it lacks an investment-grade credit rating.

Virgin Atlantic declined to comment on the hiring of Alvarez & Marsal, which Sky News reported earlier.

“We are exploring all available options to obtain additional external funding,” a spokeswoman said. “Discussions with a number of stakeholders continue and are constructive, meanwhile the airline remains in a stable position.”

So-called pre-pack administration allows a business with a viable structure but unmanageable amounts of debt to make a fresh start.

Insolvency and turnaround specialist Wilson Field says on its website that the procedure must be deemed to be in the best interest of creditors. It involves the pre-arranged sale of assets from the insolvent company into a new firm which can have the same directors or be a completely separate party.

Assets must be bought at market value as determined by an independent professional valuer.

Virgin Atlantic said Tuesday that it would eliminate 3,150 jobs, or about a third of the workforce, shutter its London Gatwick hub and trim the fleet from 45 planes to 36 to help ride out the coronavirus crisis.

The UK government is due to hold a call with airline chiefs on Sunday, though the focus is likely to be plans for airline passengers entering the country to spend two weeks under quarantine once flights resume, the person said.

Virgin has not given up on winning British backing and it is not clear what impact multi-billion dollar aid packages granted this week to Air France-KLM and Deutsche Lufthansa, as well as the funding for British Airways, will have on government thinking, the source said.