Virgin Group founder Richard Branson has insisted any financial support from the government to help Virgin Atlantic survive the coronavirus crisis would not be "free money" and would be "repaid on commercial terms".
Branson said airlines around the world would, over the coming months, rely on state support to stay in business and continue to providing healthy competition – while retaining thousands of jobs.
Virgin Atlantic is understood to have been among the first airlines to seek bespoke support from the government after chancellor Rishi Sunak stated in his first major coronavirus funding announcement on 17 March he was discussing a tailored support package for aviation with transport secretary Grant Shapps.
A fortnight later, though, Sunak warned airlines should seek other forms of funding before making any formal application for state aid.
While EasyJet on 6 April confirmed it had secured a £600 million commercial loan through the government’s Covid Corporate Financing Facility, the Financial Times on Friday (17 April) reported Virgin Atlantic had been told to resubmit its proposal for £500 million in aid, with ministers reportedly "unimpressed" by its demands for a package of commercial loans and guarantees.
However, on Monday (20 April), Branson – who opted last year to retain his 51% controlling stake in Virgin Atlantic after considering the sale of a 31% stake to Air France-KLM – insisted the airline would make good on any government support.
"If the UK government does help Virgin Atlantic to survive, it will not be free money but repaid on commercial terms," said Branson.