Belfast Telegraph

Virgin joins battle for bmi buyout

By Catherine Wylie

Sir Richard Branson's Virgin Atlantic kept up the pressure on rival BA in the battle for ownership of Lufthansa-owned bmi.

International Airlines Group (IAG), parent company of British Airways and Iberia, reached a deal to buy bmi last month but Virgin has remained in the race by signing a "terms of agreement" contract with Lufthansa.

This means that Virgin will be able to start due diligence and analyse bmi's books to find out what the acquisition would involve.

bmi flies to Heathrow from George Best Belfast City Airport while sister airline bmibaby also serves Manchester, Birmingham, Cardiff and East Midlands from the same airport.

In the battle over bmi's coveted take-off and landing slots at Heathrow, Virgin is hoping to stop BA's owner gaining more dominance and having an even greater presence on the runways of the busy hub.

If the BA deal goes ahead it would mean that IAG owns more than half of Heathrow's landing slots.

Although reports say the offer made by Virgin of around £50m is half that of the IAG offer, Sir Richard's airline is hoping that the regulatory scrutiny that would accompany a BA-bmi merger will make it more attractive to Lufthansa.

Virgin's bankers are understood to be arguing that Lufthansa would be better off doing a cheaper deal with Virgin as it would be much quicker than a sale to IAG which would involve competition regulators.

If IAG is successful, the bmi acquisition would strengthen its position at Heathrow, giving it an additional 8% of Heathrow slots.

Lufthansa declined to comment further on the future of bmi.