Richard Branson has made a lot of money licensing the Virgin name. The businesses don’t necessarily do well (see Virgin Nigeria; Virgin Cars; Virgin Brides; Virgin Cola; and Virgin Vodka), but they pay him a percentage off the top.
Branson also makes bold claims, many of which don’t come to fruition. Enough of them do, that people keep believing him. I was skeptical, though, after Alaska Airlines purchased Virgin America and stopped paying him royalties that he would really be back with a new airline in the United States.
It turns out, though, that he may come close. He has a well-known love of the Caribbean and is considering flying between the US and several Caribbean islands through a new investment.
Branson has his own Caribbean island, it’s long been possible to redeem a seven figure balance of Virgin Atlantic miles to stay there. He says that when he’s there he basically stays in the kitchen so his life advice is to have a sofa in the kitchen.
Now it seems his desire for U.S. flights and love of the Caribbean may combine. He’s reportedly in negotiations to invest in and grow LIAT.
Formerly known as Leeward Islands Air Transport Services, and mostly owned by the governments of Barbados; Antigua & Barbuda; St. Vincent and the Grenadines; and Dominica. LIAT is based in Antigua, with a hub in Barbados, and serves 15 total destinations using ATR-72 and ATR-42 turboprops.
The troubled airline promised at the end of April that they wouldn’t go out of business. Now Branson is seen as a savior. The Office of the Prime Minister in Antigua and Barbuda reported out on a cabinet meeting where they discussed Branson’s growth plan for the airline,
“The entrepreneur has proposed investing several million dollars. He would wet lease several aircraft – jets – and they would fly from Fort Lauderdale, [Florida – Ed.], to Jamaica, Haiti and down into Antigua and Barbados. The whole idea is to enlarge LIAT, rather than collapse LIAT or making it a smaller entity,”
…He added that the Virgin Group founder would not put his resources into a smaller LIAT that would not be able to achieve a profitable status.
“There just is not [enough] passengers and other kinds of possibilities to make LIAT profitable within the Caribbean,” Hurst said.
LIAT does currently fly to the U.S. — San Juan and St. Thomas — but has never flown to the U.S. mainland. In addition to Branson’s plan, the Antigua government is discussing buying out Barbados’ stake in the regional carrier.
Having mostly cashed out of Virgin Atlantic and having just a minority interest in Virgin Australia, fronting for LIAT could be an interesting return for Branson to the airline business.
I’ve met Branson only one time, and flown LIAT only once (between Sint Maarten and St. Croix, the result of a US Airways error fare) but I love to see small airlines find their wings and at least stay in business so I’m rooting for this one — even if Branson’s deals usually benefit him more than his counterparties.