Virgin Group chairman Richard Branson confirmed last week that his low-cost Australian airline Virgin Blue would be floated in the first quarter of 2003, along with seven other Virgin companies, to support his plans to expand into the US market.

Long-haul carrier Virgin Atlantic will not be one of the companies floated - Branson plans to keep his 51% shareholding and says that 49% owner Singapore Airlines might even reduce its stake in his favour. The flotations will raise an estimated $1 billion, which will go to expand Virgin Atlantic's operations in the USA, as well as Branson's other ventures in the cinema and mobile phone businesses. Banker Goldman Sachs, advising on the sale, believes that the market could value Virgin Blue at up to A$1.5 billion ($815 million).

Virgin Atlantic's expansion will also be funded by a recent investment of £25 million ($36 million). Singapore Airlines and Virgin Investments announced on 2 May they would each buy £12.5 million in new equity issued by the airline.

Meanwhile, Virgin Atlantic has announced it will recruit 300 new staff, giving priority to employees who took unpaid leave last year.

Source: Flight International