The government has been urged to step in to protect UK jobs if Virgin Atlantic were to fall into foreign control.

The call from the British Airline Pilots’ Association came as speculation mounts over Delta Air Lines and Air France-KLM group seeking to purchase Singapore Airlines’ stake in Virgin, along with some of founder Sir Richard Branson’s shareholding.

The pilots’ association has written to the transport and business secretaries to warn them that our experience of foreign takeovers of UK carriers have not been good, and to highlight the need to protect jobs.

Balpa general secretary Jim McAuslan said: “Pilots in Virgin Atlantic naturally have concerns about the impact of any take over on their jobs and careers.

“We will be seeking discussions and reassurances from all parties as soon as possible, but lessons should be learnt – both positive and negative – from previous take-overs, and jobs should be at the forefront of everybody’s mind.

“But beyond that, this potential take-over could have huge strategic importance for the UK, and is perhaps indicative of the problems faced by British aviation.

“In the last year we saw Bmi and Bmibaby disappear, and it looks like Virgin Atlantic may soon become majority foreign owned too.”

He added: “It appears a key driving force behind this move is Virgin Atlantic’s valuable slot portfolio at Heathrow.

“Decisions to buy and sell companies are being made on the basis of hugely constrained capacity at that airport.

“We question whether thought has gone into the impact of capacity policy decisions on the UK airline business, the ability of independent UK airlines to survive, and on the jobs of those who work in the industry.”