Virgin Group Chairman Sir Richard Branson stated he remains in talks with “as many as three” potential suitors for Virgin Atlantic and that he is likely to make a decision on a partnership “within the next two or three months” (Bloomberg, 26-May-2011). “I’ve always made clear that I would still be very much involved,” Sir Richard said. “My principal interest is in the alliance. If it means selling shares, we’ll consider that.” Sir Richard said Singapore Airlines remains “undecided” on whether it will sell its 49% stake in Virgin Atlantic.
Virgin Atlantic in talks with three suitors: Branson
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Airline disruption: it will happen in the next decade - but no one is preparing for it
Why so unprepared? It seems inconceivable that the structure of an industry with so many artificial constraints can remain intact much past 70 years, while all around it has changed.
This decade alone has been witness to major disruptions in the travel and transportation industries. Most prominent have been in ride sharing – Uber – and in hospitality – Airbnb. Telecommunications, media and music industries have also been turned on their heads; banks and payments are in the firing line; retail generally is being rapidly transformed. There is scarcely an industry whose fundamental structure remains intact. Except the airline industry.
In all cases disrespectful startups, usually applying relatively simple but sophisticated IT solutions, have taken on legacy operations. The legacy industries under attack typically involve extensive capital investment, and are often characterised by significant, unhelpful, and highly intrusive government regulation that restricts competition.
Certainly the legacy airlines have had to deal with a new breed of low cost operations, long and short haul. But almost without exception those legacy operators are still there, fundamentally unchanged.
In terms of other industries, this is no more than fiddling around the margins. And time is running out.
Ryanair's 117million pax in 2016 tops European airline groups. The first time an LCC topped rankings
For the first time ever in Europe, in 2016 a low cost airline carried more passengers than any other airline or airline group, as Ryanair's 117 million passengers pushed Lufthansa Group's 110 million into second place. Ryanair had beaten Lufthansa itself, but not the whole Lufthansa Group. IAG's first full year of including Aer Lingus helped it to take third place from Air France-KLM. Europe's number two LCC, easyJet, was ranked fifth.
The big five can be expanded into a big seven to include Turkish Airlines and the Aeroflot Group, although these two had contrasting growth rates in 2016. A chasing pack of middle sized airline groups includes three LCCs (Norwegian, Pegasus and Wizz Air) and three legacy airlines with varying challenges to establishing sustainable profitability (SAS, Air Berlin Group and Alitalia).
Most of the faster growing airline groups in the top 20 are LCCs and the main growth drivers for Europe's big three legacy groups are their LCC subsidiaries. Just outside the top 20 are some fast growing legacy airlines in Eastern Europe, demonstrating the potential there. Nevertheless, unless there is a big merger or acquisition, Ryanair looks set to remain at number one for some time.