Friday October 12, 4:15 PM (Singapore)
SINGAPORE (Dow Jones)--U.K.-based Virgin group Chairman Richard Branson said Friday the group's airline unit, Virgin Atlantic, has sufficient funds to see itself through the current airline industry downturn.
Branson made the statement on the sidelines of a press event for the launch of Virgin Mobile, a joint-venture between Virgin Group and Singapore Telecommunications Ltd.
Virgin Atlantic has "good cash reserves", Branson said, and he has no plans to sell Virgin Group's 51% stake in Virgin Atlantic.
"We will keep our 51% stake in Virgin Atlantic ... no matter what happens," he said.
Branson also confirmed that he has held a meeting with Singapore Airlines Ltd.'s Chief Executive Cheong Choong Kong and that they "compared notes" on the impact on the airline industry of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in the U.S.
Asked whether the discussion touched upon Virgin Atlantic's funding requirements, Branson said they "weren't discussing those kinds of issues."
SIA owns 49% of Virgin Atlantic.
Branson said Cheong and he didn't talk about bringing SIA into Virgin Blue as a new investor.
If SIA participates in the revival of Ansett Australia, Virgin Blue will compete with the new Ansett, Branson said.
SIA is in talks with Ansett's administrators on working as a consultant to design a blueprint for a restructured Ansett. SIA may also have the opportunity to take a management role or an equity stake in the new Ansett.
Branson said he remains hopeful that the global airline sector will see a turnaround in six months.
Although he "didn't specifically talk about the forecast" with SIA's Cheong, "we both lived through the Gulf War crisis (in 1991) and we both saw things coming back within about six months," Branson said.
-By Shen Hong, Dow Jones Newswires; 65-4154-156; firstname.lastname@example.org