Is Richard Branson running a double pincer movement on Virgin Blue, Qantas and Jetstar?

Branson is an unhappy 26% minority shareholder in Virgin Blue with Toll Holdings now the owner with 62% but not having much nous in the way of marketing.

Qantas and Jetstar are bracing themselves for a surge in competition from mainly Asian carriers such as Tiger and AirAsia X, with Norfolk and maybe one or two other wannabes testing the ground.

Branson’s Virgin Atlantic is 49% owned by Singapore Airlines, which is looking to sell.

Now Branson and his Virgin Group, which has just started operating in the US domestic market, have taken a 20% interest in AirAsia X.

The deal was announced on the weekend with AirAsia X, the Malaysia-based low-cost long-haul carrier, selling the 20% stake to Virgin group for just on $7 million.

AirAsia X is scheduled to start within two months by flying to London’s Stansted airport and Australia’s Gold Coast.

AirAsia X was started by Tony Fernandes, the founder of AirAsia, south-east Asia’s biggest budget carrier.

Australians will be offered return fares as low as $31 to fly to Malaysia on AirAsia X from the Gold Coast (you’d be mad to believe that: there’s all the government charges on top of that)

Flights to Avalon, near Melbourne (Jetstar’s main base) could begin next March.

The partnership between Virgin and AirAsia X would compete against Singapore Airlines, Qantas, Jetstar and Malaysian airlines on long-distance routes from south-east Asia.

Qantas has stumbled in Singapore with Jetstar Asia not working. Jetstar is going to be expanded to fill Jetstar Asia’s slots

Fernandes once worked as an accountant for Virgin Music in London.