Virgin Atlantic is reportedly close to raising around £250 million ($370 million) through an innovative bond issue that will see the carrier monetize its landing and take-off rights at London’s Heathrow Airport.
The British airline will spin off its rights – also known as runway “slots” – into a new subsidiary called Virgin Atlantic International, sources told Sky News. The subsidiary will then effectively securitize these slots into bonds, and pay dividends to investors who back them, the news site added.
A Virgin spokesperson confirmed the setting up of the subsidiary in a statement to Sky News, although news of the deal was not confirmed by the spokesperson. “We can confirm that the Civil Aviation Authority has now granted us an Air Operator Certificate for a new entity called Virgin Atlantic International Ltd, which we plan to use to operate certain Caribbean services on Virgin Atlantic’s behalf starting later this month,” the spokesperson told Sky News.
Any deal involving these slots are landmark in Europe because it represents a novel path to carrier financing through the raising of money from an airline’s runway slots, a potentially lucrative move. In 2012, British Airways came up with a similar plan to issue its first secured bonds backed by its landing and take-off rights at Heathrow Airport, but cancelled it due to insufficient demand, reported Reuters.
Such a deal is also described by The Sunday Times as the “Gordian knot” of aviation since it brings in the complicated question of how to safeguard the rights to these slots should Virgin Atlantic go bust. To help assuage investors, sources told The Sunday Times that Virgin could incorporate a trust to hold these slots in the event it goes insolvent.
These slots are valuable assets for Virgin, as the airlines ranks as the the third largest holder of Heathrow slots, according to data compiled in 2013 by the Centre for Aviation. Those slots represents the primary way to get landing and take-off rights at Heathrow, one of the world’s busiest airports and an important European hub, and one which the U.K.’s Airport Commission admits faces perennial capacity problems over demand for its two runways.
Prime Minister David Cameron could be announcing a decision on whether to build a third runway at Heathrow in the coming days, according to The Telegraph.