The prospect of a tie up with a Gulf region carrier has been raised by Virgin Atlantic chief executive Craig Kreeger.

The former American Airlines executive said he had not ruled out an alliance with an airline in the region to boost Virgin’s network in the east.

He told “We have a number of partners around the world. The question as to whether a Middle East carrier would make sense as an alliance partner, or some form of relationship, is one to be determined.”

Virgin Atlantic already has interline deals with several Middle East carriers, including Oman Air, Gulf Air, Qatar Airways, Emirates and Saudi Arabian Airlines.

“We do have some opportunities today and take advantage of those. Whether we will choose to create an expanded relationship with some others is to be determined,” Kreeger added.

If an alliance with a Gulf carrier was to happen, Abu Dhabi’s Etihad Airways is considered the most likely candidate. Virgin Atlantic’s codesharing partners Virgin Australia and India’s Jet Airways are already part owned by Etihad.

Singapore Airlines and Air New Zealand also have strong links to both carriers. Kreeger declined to speak about any specific possible partnership arrangements.

“I think we are pretty comfortable with the two shareholders that we have, Richard [Branson] and the Virgin Group owns 51% and Delta owns 49. We haven’t contemplated any changes to that.

“Getting the Delta deal performing well for our customers is job one and the first priority. We will evaluate future alliance partners in other parts of the world, including the Middle East, after we have made some progress there first.”

Delta was one of the founding carriers behind SkyTeam, the global alliance set up in 2000 and which also includes Air France KLM.

“I do think an alliance decision is one we will have to make,” Kreeger said. “Is there more value in a SkyTeam alliance rather than a blend of partners or on a bilateral basis? There are pros and cons for both and in due course we will take a close look at which one the answer is.”