I had not occurred to Richard Branson, even in his wildest dreams, to own an airline. So the message that a Mr. Randolph Fields had telephoned to see if he was interested in buying one only mildly excited his curiosity.
Fields, he learned, owned a 'paper' airline, British Atlantic, which had applied for the license to fly from Gatwick to Newark airport, New York, on an air 'frequency' which had been vacant since the collapse of Laker Airways two years before. Fields had spent some months, and a modest amount of money, examining the feasibility of a new transatlantic airline; he had approached several key figures who had been with Laker Airways and solicited their interest; he had begun to make enquiries about purchasing an aircraft. All he needed was Richard Branson's money.
As Branson would have been the first to acknowledge, common sense dictated that he avoid it at all costs.
He knew nothing about airlines. It was nothing to do with the record industry where he was "guru", or entertainment of any sort, and thus a radical departure from the Virgin principle of expanding into related fields. Furthermore, the investments necessary to make an airline work could, theoretically, drag Virgin Group to bankruptcy. And yet, the more Branson thought about Fields's scheme, the more feasible - and attractive - it began to look.
Within a week they had agreed, in principle, to be partners.
Virgin where going into the airline business.
The idea of starting an airline had come to Fields's on demise of Laker Airways in February 1982. He's first scheme had been to capitalize on the aftermath of the Falkland conflict, by operating a service between Gatwick and Port Stanley. That was modified to running a business-class only service to New York. He had discussions with...