Sir Richard Branson mulling $2.6 billion bid for London's Gatwick

Flamboyant billionaire Sir Richard Branson is eyeing yet another mega-deal that will make him not only an airline owner with his Virgin line, but also the proud owner of an airport.

Branson is reported to have expressed interest in London's Gatwick airport, one of three UK airports shortly to be prised from current owner BAA by the Competition Commission regulators, and is mulling a £2 billion bid ($3.6 billion) for the same. (See: UK regulator recommends divesting BAA's airport holdings in London, Scotland)

The Virgin Atlantic Airways Ltd. president has held talks with a number of possible bidding partners, the Daily Telegraph cited Branson as saying. They may include funds backed by the Dubai royal family.

The proposals are at an early stage because the airport is not yet formally for sale and a final report by the UK Competition Commission on the UK airport industry is not due to be published until February 2009. BAA's owner Grupo Ferrovial SA is unlikely to call for bids until the report is released, according to the newspaper.

There's also the question of how Virgin's airline competitors would react. They would demand undertakings to ensure that a Gatwick partly owned by Branson would not favour Virgin Atlantic - such as giving it the inside track on available take-off and landing slots.

Branson's recent tirade against a BA-American-Iberia tie-up would not have escaped his escaped his rivals' attention, who may look to scuttle this deal fearing the control it will put in his hands. (See: Richard Branson dubs BA, American, Iberia partnership a " monster monopoly")