Richard Branson is expected to move from bystander to backer as Virgin Australia's administration process picks up pace this week.
The Brit billionaire and 'brand godfather' is considered likely to align himself with the eventual owner of the failed airline or indicate support for both the final two shortlisted bidders, ahead of the winner being declared by Virgin Australia administrator Deloitte by month's end.
Branson's Virgin Group has connections with two lead bidders – New York's Cyrus Capital, which was a cornerstone investor in the launch of Virgin America, and Bain Capital, which is the majority owner of the new Virgin Voyages cruise line.
However, as reported by The Financial Review, a Virgin Group spokesperson says it has had "productive discussions with [all] the bidders."
"Our intention is to work with administrators and the management team, along with investors and government, to ensure that Australia maintains two airlines," Virgin Group CEO Josh Bayliss noted when Virgin Australia fell into administration in late April.
Branson was previously been said to have been good for as much as a $250m assist to the airline, which could come as part of a self-funded rescue package for his aviation and travel empire – including raising $750 million through selling a chunk of his stake in the Virgin Galactic space tourism venture.
However, the billion-dollar bailout would be distributed among ventures such as Virgin Atlantic, Virgin Australia and Virgin Voyages cruise line.
Although Branson's 10% stake in Virgin Australia will be wiped out during the administration process, his support for the airline could be mounted in several ways.
One might be an cash injection as part of the winning bid - which is estimated to be in the vicinity of $4 billion – to help recapitalise the airline into the streamlined Virgin 2.0.
Another would be to immediately advance some much-needed 'emergency' money to bolster Virgin's current cash at hand, which will run out this month – well before the new buyer's plan it put to creditors for approval (or not) – and could tip the grounded airline into liquidation.
Branson is also likely to drop or very deeply discount his brand franchising fee, said to be vicinity of $15 million per year, at least over the next few years until the airline is back on its feet and back in the air.