Virgin Express is to become the latest of Europe's low-cost carriers to seek a public listing ,with plans to launch on the Brussels stock exchange and the USNASDAQ exchange.

Start-ups UKDebonair and Belgian's City Bird have sought listings on Europe's EASDAQ, while Ireland's Ryanair has also recently floated. Virgin Express wants to join them, with a share sale due in November, designed to raise around $100 million of fresh cash for ambitious growth plans.

Virgin chief executive Jonathan Ornstein says that owner Richard Branson does not plan to sell his own shares, but adds that the level of his holding will be diluted, possibly falling below 50%, depending on the size of the new issue.

Virgin Express operates a fleet of 15 Boeing 737-300/400s and two wet-leased 737-200s, to cope with a shortage of capacity caused by slow deliveries by Boeing. The carrier has plans to increase its fleet to at least 18, "at the minimum", and holds options for further 737-300s, switched from an original position on the New Generation 737-700.

The airline posted sales of $180 million in 1996 and carried 2.5 million passengers. Although most of the passengers have come from the established charter services inherited from the former EuroBelgian Airlines operation, low-cost scheduled services have been growing fast. Plans include adding new scheduled services to Birmingham, Edinburgh and Manchester to the European destinations already served from Brussels. The airline took over London services on behalf of Sabena in 1996 and codeshares to Barcelona and Rome.

Source: Flight International