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Virgin Australia may not be rushing into the embrace of a global airline alliance but its UK sibling Virgin Atlantic is set to join either Star Alliance or SkyTeam in early 2013.
"Virgin Atlantic has always enjoyed its independence, but since pretty well every competitor that we have has an alliance I think we have finally decided that to survive we need to have an alliance," Sir Richard Branson told Bloomberg Television in India, where he is launching the airline's new London-Mumbai route this weekend.
Branson has traditionally been reticent to sign up with any alliance, but admitted "It’s likely we may well give up and become part of an alliance as a whole", tipping the announcement was likely to come within the “next three to four months."
It's Star vs SkyTeam
Naturally Branson didn't name which alliance he was talking with – or more likely, which alliance was courting him – but it's known to be either Star Alliance or SkyTeam, given that oneworld is home to his bête noire British Airways.
One factor in Star's favour is that Singapore Airlines, which owns 49% of Virgin Atlantic (the rest is in the hands of Branson's Virgin Group), is a Star member.
But alliance considerations are far more complex, and aim to leverage the routes of potential partner airlines to extend an airline's own effective reach as part of a 'virtual network'.
No 'obvious choice', says Virgin Australia
Earlier this year, Virgin Australia CEO John Borghetti poured cold water on speculation that the airline was planning to join Star Alliance, suggesting that that, if anything, SkyTeam could be a better fit.
Although Virgin shareholder Air New Zealand and partner Singapore Airlines both belong to Star, this doesn't make that alliance a fait accompli, Borghetti told The Australian.
"It's wrong to assume Star is the obvious choice" he said, citing that Virgin's US partner Delta Air Lines "is in Sky Team and Sky Team is a very formidable group, and I think Delta are terrific partners."
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