Virgin Atlantic files for bankruptcy amid warning airline 'could run out of money'

5 August 2020, 07:34

Virgin Atlantic could run out of money by the end of September if creditors do not approve a £1.2 billion bailout package
Virgin Atlantic could run out of money by the end of September if creditors do not approve a £1.2 billion bailout package. Picture: PA

By Megan White

Virgin Atlantic has filed for bankruptcy in the US, and told a court it will run out of money by 28 September unless something is done.

The UK-based airline is now the second airline in the company to struggle during the coronavirus pandemic, after Vrgin Australia went under in April.

Last month, Virgin Atlantic secured a £1.2 billion deal amongst investors and creditors. The brand's owner Richard Branson put in £200 million to try and save the ailing business.

The proposal needs to secure approval from creditors under a court-sanction process.

Without an injection of new cash, it is projected that the airline's cash flow would drop to "critical levels" by the middle of next month and it will "run out of money altogether" by the week beginning 28 September.

At a High Court hearing on Tuesday, David Allison QC, for Virgin Atlantic Airways Limited, told Mr Justice Trower that the Virgin Atlantic Group has "a fundamentally sound business model which was not in any problems at all before the Covid-19 pandemic".

Virgin Atlantic Airways Limited, referred to as "the company" in written submissions, forms part of the Virgin Atlantic Group, which was referred to as "the group".

In written submissions to the court, Mr Allison said: "The group's financial position has been severely affected by the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, which has caused unprecedented disruption to the global aviation industry.

"Passenger demand has plummeted to a level that would, until recently, have been unthinkable."

He said: "As a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, the group is now undergoing a liquidity crisis.

"Absent a restructuring and an injection of new money, it is projected that the group's cash flow would drop to a critical level by the week commencing 21 September 2020."

Mr Allison said this would trigger the rights of some creditors to "commence an enforcement process" over Virgin Atlantic's landing slots at Heathrow Airport, adding that this would, "if the slots were removed from the control and usage of the company, ultimately destroy the group's business".

He added: "It is projected that the group would run out of money altogether during the week commencing 28 September 2020."

Mr Allison went on to say that without a "solvent recapitalisation", including an injection of new money, Virgin Atlantic's directors would have "no choice" but to place the company into administration in mid-September 2020 in order to wind down the business and sell any assets, where possible.

He said: "This would result in a poor outcome for the company's creditors - especially its unsecured creditors - since the value of the company's assets and business would likely be subject to a significant reduction in the event of a formal insolvency proceeding.

"Such an outcome would be particularly unfortunate because the group's business is fundamentally sound.

"Prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, the group was not in any difficulty at all. The group remains one of the leading airlines in the world and is an icon of British business and aviation.

"The problems that the group now faces are not of its own making but are the result of a global health disaster."

During Tuesday's hearing, Mr Allison told the court: "We say it is in the best interests of all stakeholders to reach a position which avoids administration and enables the group to continue as a going concern."

At the hearing, Mr Allison asked Mr Justice Trower to make an order allowing meetings of groups of creditors to be convened to enable them to vote on the restructuring plan.

The senior judge gave the go-ahead for the meetings, which are due to take place on August 25.

In written submissions, the barrister said that, "to prevent a collapse into administration", Virgin Atlantic's restructuring plan needs to be sanctioned at the beginning of September 2020.

Announcing the bailout package last month, the airline said the plan includes £200 million provided by founder Sir Richard Branson's Virgin Group and support from Delta Air Lines - which owns 49% of Virgin Atlantic.

The package is worth £1.2 billion over the next 18 months and is in addition to measures already taken, such as cost savings of around £280 million per year and amending aircraft deliveries over the next five years.

Virgin Atlantic has previously said it does not expect demand for air travel to return to pre-coronavirus pandemic levels until 2023.

In a statement after the hearing, a Virgin Atlantic spokesperson said: "In order to progress the private-only solvent recapitalisation of the airline, the restructuring plan is going through a court-sanctioned process under Part 26A of the Companies Act 2006, to secure approval from all relevant creditors before implementation.

"With support already secured from the majority of stakeholders, it's expected that the Restructuring Plan and recapitalisation will come into effect in September. We remain confident in the plan."