Skip to main content

A Virgin Australia Airlines plane is seen at Kingsford Smith International Airport in Sydney on March 21, 2020.Loren Elliott/Reuters

U.S. private equity group Bain Capital said on Friday it has agreed with the administrator of Virgin Australia Holdings Ltd. to buy Australia’s second-biggest airline for an undisclosed sum, banking on an aviation industry recovery.

Bain’s bid was chosen over a rival offer from Cyrus Capital Partners and a recapitalization proposal put forward by Virgin Australia bondholders, administrator Deloitte said.

Deloitte said it was not yet possible to estimate the return to creditors and did not expect any return to shareholders. An update on the return will be provided ahead of a creditors meeting in August, it said.

Many contracts with suppliers and aircraft lessors must be renegotiated before the return to creditors can be finalized, a source with knowledge of the matter told Reuters on condition of anonymity.

The deal will need to be approved by 50 per cent of creditors by value and 50 per cent by number to be finalized.

A spokesman for the 6,000 unsecured bondholders owed $2-billion Australian ($1.88-billion) said that despite Deloitte’s selection of Bain, they would continue to push for genuine consideration of their rival debt-to-equity swap proposal.

Bain is using private equity as well as its distressed and special situation funds for the deal, according to Deloitte, which said the deal provided a “significant” injection of capital into the airline.

The Australian newspaper reported Bain would inject $600-million Australian of cash up front, $600-million Australian to cover travel credits held by customers and $450-million Australian to cover employee entitlements, without saying where it got the information.

Deloitte and Bain declined to comment.

Bain plans to strengthen Virgin’s regional services and ensure the airline offers good value for leisure customers while continuing to serve business travellers, Mike Murphy, an Australia-based managing director at Bain, said in a statement.

Virgin Australia entered administration in April owing nearly $7-billion Australian ($6.57-billion) to creditors, but is viewed as an attractive investment given the Australian domestic aviation market duopoly it shares with larger rival Qantas Airways Ltd.

Cyrus on Friday morning said it had pulled out of the bidding, citing Deloitte’s unwillingness to engage in meaningful talks.

The Bain proposal supports Virgin Australia’s current management team, led by chief executive Paul Scurrah, and its improvement plan for the airline, Deloitte said in a statement.

Virgin Australia has about 9,000 employees and Bain plans to keep 5,000 to 6,000 and operate 60 to 70 of its Boeing 737 planes, Mr. Murphy told The Australian Financial Review on Friday, adding the airline could break even by February. Bain did not respond immediately to a request for comment.

Qantas on Thursday said it would cut more than 20 per cent of its 29,000-strong workforce because of the bleak international travel outlook associated with the coronavirus outbreak.

Virgin Australia has a smaller international business than Qantas and is more exposed to the domestic market.

Be smart with your money. Get the latest investing insights delivered right to your inbox three times a week, with the Globe Investor newsletter. Sign up today.