Willie Walsh's IAG sets up battle with Branson to take over Flybe
Aer Lingus owner IAG is lining up a bid for UK regional airline Flybe - a move that puts it head to head with Richard Branson's Virgin Atlantic for control of the business.
Flybe - headed by former CityJet chief executive Christine Ourmières-Widener - said earlier this month that it was in talks with potential buyers, as it grapples with higher fuel costs, lower demand and the weak pound.
On Friday, the airline confirmed that Virgin Atlantic was one of the parties it was in discussions with as part of a formal sale process.
However, the London-based 'Sunday Telegraph' reported that International Consolidated Airlines Group (IAG), the group headed by Irish chief executive Willie Walsh that also operates Aer Lingus, British Airways and Iberia, is in pole position to buy Flybe.
In 2007, Exeter-based Flybe bought BA's UK regional airline BA Connect.
It remains heavily focused on the UK regional market, although it describes itself as the largest independent airline in Europe. The airline carries eight million passengers a year between 81 airports.
A spokeswoman for IAG said yesterday that the group does not comment on rumour or speculation, but a bid is understood to be in motion.
It's the latest move to consolidate the aviation sector by IAG, including a push to buy Scandinavian airline Norwegian that appears to have run into the ground.
IAG snapped up a 4.6pc stake in Norwegian earlier this year but efforts to lift that to a controlling stake stalled.
In the meantime, IAG group has been expanding, including its Level and Aer Lingus transatlantic routes.