ALPA calls on DOT to investigate Virgin America's ownership

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North American pilot union the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA) today called on the US DOT to hold a public inquiry into whether there has been a significant change in ownership of Virgin America, after new media reports highlighted questions about the low-cost carrier's citizenship.

In a filing with the DOT, in support of Alaska Airlines' own petition on the matter, ALPA claims that serious questions exist as to whether Virgin America is a citizen of the United States entitled to hold a certificate to provide air transportation.

"Given that significant changes appear to have occurred among the company's investors, the American people deserve a public proceeding to determine whether Virgin America satisfies the law," says ALPA's first vice president Paul Rice.

ALPA's response focuses on news media reports that two US hedge funds have exercised their rights to sell their interests in Virgin America back to the British Virgin Group and that the airline has not found any US investors to replace them.

News media reports also indicate that, while the hedge funds no longer have any beneficial interest in Virgin America, they continue to "hold" 75% of Virgin America's voting stock, notes ALPA.

"The idea that a hedge fund counts for actual control of a company even if it holds no benefit or risk defies decades of public policy and current law that prohibits foreign control of US airlines," says Rice.

"Virgin America would have us believe that any level of foreign investment in US airlines is acceptable so long as US citizens retain physical possession of the stock certificates and the right to vote 75% of an airline's voting shares. We don't agree."

Labour leaders at both Alaska Airlines and Horizon Air, including the ALPA-represented pilots at Alaska Airlines, also have expressed their support for Alaska Airlines' petition.