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Virgin Atlantic CEO Says Branson Will Remain Majority Owner

Richard Branson is unlikely to relinquish control of Virgin Atlantic Airways Ltd. as part of any deal for Singapore Airlines Ltd. to exit its holding, the U.K. carrier’s chief executive officer, Steve Ridgeway, said.

“He is the majority shareholder,” Ridgeway said in an interview after the Asian airline confirmed that it might dispose of the 49 percent investment. “What they said today, it’s about Singapore selling some or all of their stake.”

Singapore Airlines is looking to sever ties to Virgin to focus on local markets where opportunities are opening up at the same time that Gulf carriers Emirates, Qatar Airways Ltd. and Etihad Airways present new challenges, the CEO said.

“India has opened up, China has opened up and there are three fearsome competitors on their western side,” he said. “That’s what their agenda is about. I’ve got to leave it to Singapore now, they’ve made that stock-exchange announcement and we just need to let them work that through.”

Virgin Atlantic is “well down the road” in choosing a new CEO, he said, adding that the aim is to make an announcement before Christmas or slightly after and that candidates won’t be put off by the possibility of a new investor.

“All these things are about opportunities,” Ridgeway said. “If there is a good opportunity there the job remains as attractive as it is today.”

Atlanta-based Delta Air Lines Inc. is mulling a bid for the Singapore Air stake, according to people familiar with the plans who declined to be identified because the matter is private. Delta ally Air France-KLM Group, Europe’s biggest carrier, might also purchase a holding, they said.

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