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Sir Richard Branson has thrown down a £1m challenge to Willie Walsh about the future of Virgin Atlantic.He has been spurred into action by suggestions from Mr Walsh, chief executive of International Airlines, the BA and Iberia group, that Virgin Atlantic could soon be consigned to history if a planned deal involving Delta Airlines goes through.
Sir Richard strongly denied the Virgin name will be dropped and has offered to pay BA staff £1m if the brand name has disappeared within five years. If he wins he wants BA to make a £1m payment to Virgin staff.
Delta is at an advanced stage in talks to buy the 49pc stake held by Singapore Airlines in Virgin Atlantic and an announcement is expected shortly.
Mr Walsh said the Virgin Atlantic name was likely to be ditched by Delta once the deal is finalised. “I can’t see Delta wanting to operate the Virgin brand because if they do what does that say about the Delta brand?”
But Sir Richard, stung by Mr Walsh’s comments, has hit back, using a blog on the Virgin website to reject the suggestion that he is ready to see the brand name disappear.
He wrote: “This is wishful thinking and totally misguided. Will BA never learn? Let’s see how much they believe this. Let them put their money where their mouth is.”
He says he will hand over £1m to BA staff if Virgin Atlantic disappears within five years and “if not BA pays our staff £1m.”
Sir Richard and BA have a long history of soured relations and legal action. Virgin won the last legal encounter in a case involving ‘dirty tricks’ and Sir Richard split the money awarded to the company among his staff.
But rather than suing BA over Mr Walsh’s comments he is putting his money where his mouth is. He said: “Virgin Atlantic was my baby 28 years ago when we set up with just one plane. Like all children, they never really stop being your babies and Virgin Atlantic is still very much cherished.
“It has grown into a wonderful airline which has punched above its weight for almost three decades, giving much larger airlines a real run for their money.
“We intend to carry on doing so for many years to come and contrary to Mr Walsh’s hopes we have no plans to disappear. But since they are so confident will BA accept our challenge?”
IAG, BA’s owner, would not comment on Monday.
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