If he went to the government.... and if he were successful....
How would he do it? Contrary to popular belief, Virgin Atlantic isn't swimming in cash. Neither is Branson himself at the moment, I think. When he announced interest to start up a low cost Virgin airline in America with a starting capital of $15 million, that may have been an indicator not just of how dangerous investment in America is at the moment, but how little cash reserves the Virgin empire has to spare. It's quite certain he would not even try to integrate Concorde into an existing company - he could not risk the bankruptcy of the crown jewel in his empire, the airline Virgin Atlantic, by burdening it with an expensive toy that wouldn't earn profits, all during one of the worst crises in aviation history.
So he'd have to start up an independent company, call it Virgin Supersonic PLC or something, to own and operate Concorde for Virgin Atlantic. The planes would undoubtedly fly under the Virgin Atlantic banner and all, but it'd be a lease. Probably he'd try and kick start the entire thing by some special offers (announce the minimum frequent flier miles it would take to fly on Concorde, make special offers along the lines of "book a full fare return on Concorde, get an Upper Class return to any destination free etc.), and hike up the prices quite a bit at the same time, but essentially, he'd lease the planes from himself, placing all the risk in a purpose-built subsidiary. Now if (or when) that subsidiary runs out of cash, it would go into liquidation, and Concorde services would once again end for good. He'd have squeezed 12 months of service out of it, perhaps 24 (if lucky), gotten lots of passengers to fly on VS
and business pax to use their Upper Class in the hope of accumulating enough miles to fly Concorde one day, and Virgin Atlantic would come out of it with a profit, on balance. Even if Virgin Atlantic had to sacrifice a daily slot to Concorde, I doubt they can currently fill 4 daily flights to New York anyway, so they'd have freed up a plane for expansions somewhere else (eg Australia - connecting it via Dubai and LAX
, effectively creating the roots of Virgin Pacific), have Concorde on one of the daily LHR
slots, and by the time the market for normal travel fully recovers, Concorde services would probably have ceased anyway, due to bankruptcy of the subsidiary, and VS
could resume using the sacrificed slot for their standard NewYork service.
In short, I believe Branson has good reason to want to get his hands on Concorde. I still have no hope that he'll achieve his aims, nor that he will pursue them seriously (he'll just continue making token offers that are ridiculously unaffordable to BA
, like including slots & lounges in a 1 pound deal), but I think there is a business case here - even if only a case assuming an independent subsidiary with the eventual demise a firm plan of the concept. The main benefactor of it all would be the airline Virgin Atlantic, because they would get the prestige of Concorde without getting the costs or risks associated with it.
Anyway, time to stop dreaming around... Now back to saving money to try and get on one of AF
's tour flights....