Virgin is poised to take over a UK airline, probably Sabre Airways, as its Brussels-based low fare division Virgin Express launches services to London Stansted. The airport could eventually become its UK hub. Meanwhile, British Airways' low fare airline Go has begun to operate at the airport.

Speaking at the launch of services to Stansted, Virgin boss Richard Branson said he has a letter of intent to buy the unnamed airline, and expects the deal, reportedly valued at less than £5 million ($8.2 million), to be finalised very soon. Virgin Express already has a deal with London Gatwick-based Sabre which will see the charter airline operating two Virgin Express Boeing 737-300s from the UK on its air operator's certificate.

There is speculation that this represents the first stage of a deal which will see the charter airline taken over by Virgin as the basis for the new carrier Virgin Sun. The airline will begin operations from Gatwick and Manchester next May, operating holiday flights to Europe using Boeing 737-800s - a type that Sabre will introduce soon on lease.

Virgin Express says it is examining Stansted as a possible third hub, after Brussels and Rome. Such a move would pitch it into the backyard of low fare airline Ryanair as well as KLM uk, which have hubs there. Meanwhile, BA's Go is also establishing itself at Stansted, having launched services to Rome and Milan, with Copenhagen being added in June.

Source: Flight International