Richard Branson sells slice of Virgin Atlantic to Air France-KLM for £220m, meaning Virgin is no longer a majority shareholder

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Richard Branson launched Virgin Atlantic 33 years ago (Source: Getty)

Sir Richard Branson's Virgin Group today relinquished control of Virgin Atlantic, selling a 31 per cent stake in the airline to Air France-KLM for £220m.

Virgin Group, which sold a 49 per cent in the airline to US carrier Delta in 2012, is now the third largest shareholder with a 20 per cent interest.

"This is a fantastic opportunity to extend our network and create a stronger customer champion," said Branson.

The Virgin Group founder added in a note to staff:

It’s strange to think but Virgin Atlantic has now been flying for half my lifetime... I want to be certain that all the necessary building blocks are in place for Virgin Atlantic to continue to prosper and grow for the next 50 years.

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Air France-KLM also revealed plans to further its ties with Delta and partner-up with China Eastern. The French carrier will issue new shares worth €751m with the two airlines taking a 10 per cent shareholding each in Air France.

“This partnership which is unprecedented in scale gives Air France-KLM a leadership position in the worldwide airline industry," said Air France-KLM chairman and chief executive Jean-Marc Janaillac.

"With Delta and Virgin Atlantic we are reinforcing our trans-Atlantic alliance, making us the number one alliance between Europe and the United States in terms of traffic. With China Eastern, we are consolidating our position in a high-growth market."

Last year China Eastern announced a partnership with Virgin Atlantic rival British Airways.

Delta made a $450m investment into China Eastern in 2015 and in March this year American Airlines picked up a £159m stake in China Southern.

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