Branson open to selling Virgin Australia stake: reports

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Virgin group chairman Richard Branson has indicated that the British company could sell its remaining 13% stake in Virgin Australia.

According to Australian media reports, Branson says that he is "not too worried" if the company further lowers its stake in Virgin Australia.

"The 13% is pretty strategic in that it could be very valuable to a player one day, but it's not that important from the Virgin group's point of view," he was quoted as saying.

Branson was in Australia for a ceremony to mark the start of the rebranding of Skywest Airlines as Virgin Australia Regional Airlines. Virgin completed its takeover of the Perth-based regional carrier in April.

He adds that, from his point of view, it is more important for Virgin Australia to retain the Virgin brand, which is covered under a brand licensing agreement.

Virgin recently sold a 9.9% stake to Singapore Airlines in April, taking that carrier's holding in Virgin Australia to 19.9%. That is the same amount held by Air New Zealand, and greater than the 9% owned by Abu Dhabi's Etihad Airways.

The situation has led some observers to speculate that cash-rich Etihad may move to increase its stake in Virgin in order to shore up the alliance that the two carriers have on Middle Eastern and European routes.

Branson admits that he would be open to an approach by Etihad, saying: "We would cross that bridge if it came."