Delta Air Lines, America's largest airline, is plotting to take control of Virgin Atlantic after making a secret approach to the British carrier's Asian shareholder, Britain's Sunday Times reported.
Delta is understood to have offered to buy Singapore Airlines' 49 percent stake in Virgin. If it succeeds, Delta's European partner Air France-KLM may then buy part of Richard Branson's 51 percent stake, seeing its founder lose control of the airline for the first time.
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Branson, who set up Virgin Atlantic in 1984, has been weighing the airline's future for years and two years ago appointed Deutsche Bank to examine offers.
"We are always talking to many airlines on a number of different matters but we never comment on the details of these discussions," a Virgin Atlantic spokeswoman said on Sunday.
Delta and Air France-KLM came close to a deal to buy Virgin Atlantic in February last year but talks broke down over price and Branson's rights over the Virgin brand, the paper reported on Sunday.
Delta was not immediately available for comment.
(Reporting by Luke Jeffs; Editing by Helen Massy-Beresford)