Speculation is growing that the Virgin group is close to a deal with UK charter carrier Sabre Airways to form the basis of Virgin Sun, a new European holiday airline venture.

Details of the new airline, being set up by Virgin Holidays, are expected to be unveiled at the end of April. A short-haul network is due to be launched in 1999 on routes from the UK to holiday destinations mainly in Spain and Turkey.

Virgin's Brussels-based low fare airline, Virgin Express, is reported to be discussing a tie-up with Sabre, which would see the Gatwick-based Boeing 727 operator being taken over and used as the framework for the new charter operation. Such a move would provide Virgin Express with a fast track to a UK air operator's certificate (AOC) and additional slots at Gatwick. The low fare airline has mooted leaving Belgium for the UK or Ireland due to Belgium's high labour costs.

The two airlines will say only that they are discussing a deal for Sabre to operate two Virgin Express Boeing 737-300s on its AOC. The UK-based aircraft will be flown on Virgin's expanding network of routes from the UK.

Source: Flight International