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I still love Virgin Australia ‘dearly’, says Branson


Sir Richard Branson has declared he still loves Virgin Australia “dearly” after he helped guide the airline out of administration in 2020.

Speaking to The Australian, the British entrepreneur insisted he is “just as involved” as he used to be and would continue to “fight to look after the company”.

“I’ve spent a lot of time with Virgin Australia staff since I’ve been down here and spent time with Jayne [Hrdlicka, the CEO], and I’m still the biggest private shareholder,” he said.

Branson was talking to journalists this week after launching his latest cruise ship, Resilient Lady, in Sydney.

Virgin Australia entered administration in 2020 after years of trying to shift itself from a low-cost carrier to a full-service offering capable of taking on Qantas.

Branson, then only a 10 per cent shareholder, won plaudits for releasing a video talking directly to staff within hours of the collapse being confirmed.

The airline was eventually purchased by private equity firm Bain, but Branson was later able to acquire a 5 per stake and keep the Virgin branding on the aircraft.

So far, the buyout has been successful, with the business recently revealing a full-year profit of $129 million for FY2 – a remarkable turnaround given it collapsed owing more than $7 billion.

“We’re back to expanding again and we’re looking at one or two exciting new ventures and, having a few months ago gone to space with Virgin Galactic, now I’m down here with the Virgin Voyages,” said Branson.

“Virgin is certainly not as financially strong as it was, but pretty well nobody is as strong as they were before Covid and our team is still creating wonderful, wonderful new ventures.”

The positive words come shortly after Virgin Australia’s sister airline, Atlantic flew the world’s first commercial flight powered entirely by sustainable aviation fuel (SAF).

Current fuel standards allow for a SAF blend of only 50 per cent with traditional jet fuel, with SAF making up less than 0.1 per cent of global jet fuel volumes.

The fuel used in Flight100 was 88 per cent HEFA (hydroprocessed esters and fatty acids), made of waste fats, and 12 per cent SAK (synthetic aromatic kerosene), made of plant sugars.

According to Shai Weiss, CEO of Virgin Atlantic, the flight was meant to demonstrate the viability of SAF and its compatibility with current aviation technology, including engines, airframes and fuel infrastructure.

“Flight100 proves that Sustainable Aviation Fuel can be used as a safe, drop-in replacement for fossil-derived jet fuel, and it’s the only viable solution for decarbonising long-haul aviation,” he said.

“It’s taken radical collaboration to get here, and we’re proud to have reached this important milestone, but we need to push further.

“There’s simply not enough SAF, and it’s clear that in order to reach production at scale, we need to see significantly more investment. This will only happen when regulatory certainty and price support mechanisms, backed by government, are in place. Flight100 proves that if you make it, we’ll fly it.”

In Australia, both government and industry have already expressed interest in building an Australian SAF industry; the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) is issuing $30 million in grants across the supply chain.

Qantas, which is partnering with Airbus on a facility in Queensland, told Australian Aviation it endorses the roadmap, with chief sustainability officer Andrew Parker saying it highlights the potential for developing SAF in Australia.

“The mapping of Australia’s feedstock capability is a critical step towards establishing a domestic SAF industry and highlights the opportunity that exists right across the country,” he said.

“It’s going to take airlines, aircraft manufacturers and industry working together to accelerate the development of a domestic industry.”

The Flying Kangaroo has previously called for a SAF blending mandate similar to those in jurisdictions such as the UK, USA, Europe and Japan.


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