Sky News has learnt that Peter Norris, the chairman of Virgin Atlantic Airways’ majority shareholder, Virgin Group, will write to the prime minister on Monday to warn that the sector needs immediate financial aid to survive.
The bailout request will come ahead of what could prove to be the bloodiest week in British aviation history, with British Airways, Virgin Atlantic, easyJet and Ryanair all expected to announce mass groundings of aircraft and potentially huge redundancies as the COVID-19 crisis escalates.
Sources said that Mr Norris’s letter – which is also understood to be being signed by Shai Weiss, Virgin Atlantic’s chief executive – would ask the government to provide airlines with a credit facility to help them finance themselves through a potentially protracted period of negligible revenue.
That support, which the Virgin chairman estimates would be worth between £5bn and £7.5bn across the industry, would include cash advances and guarantees, as well as other measures to ensure that credit card companies do not continue to hoard revenue from airline bookings.
Under Mr Norris’s blueprint, this emergency financing would be repaid once trading returns to more normal levels.
One source close to the airline, which was founded by Sir Richard Branson in 1984, said that Mr Norris would also ask the PM to extend the timetable for allowing airlines to keep planes grounded without losing their prized take-off and landing slots for the entire summer season.