Branson: Boeing, Bikinis, Bitching -- And Booming

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While everyone else in the aviation world seems to be in a dark and deepening slump, none of that is rubbing off on Virgin CEO Sir Richard Branson. The irrepressible Brit brought his retinue of Virgin execs to Seattle the other day clad in T-shirts and shorts, while female cabin attendants sported bikinis, despite the damp and chilly weather. He was there to take delivery of a 777-300ER that is the launch vehicle for his newest airline, V Australia. But he made it clear -- painfully clear, no doubt, to Boeing executives -- that he wasn't happy about the delivery delay. He said the new airline was ready to go last Christmas, but had to wait for airplanes, due to the strike at Boeing. "The strike hurt hundreds of thousands of our passengers," Branson told reporters. "It messed up Virgin Atlantic, it messed up Virgin Blue in Australia, it ruined people's Christmas holidays. It was absolutely and utterly ghastly." He certainly didn't brighten Boeing's day when he added: "If union leaders and management can't get their act together to avoid strikes, we're not going to come back here again. We're already thinking, 'Would we ever risk putting another order with Boeing?' It's that serious." Boeing spokesman Jim Proulx later told reporters, "We never want to disappoint our customers to such an extent. We are committed to doing everything we can in the future to satisfy our customers in the manner they deserve." As for Virgin, it seems unaffected by the current worldwide slump, and while other companies are cutting staff right and left, Branson is looking to hire. "We have just launched our new group-wide careers site," he announces in his latest blog post. "We have roles in offices, on shop floors, in call centres, gyms, on trains and planes, in resorts and across different geographies. From customer service to finance to product development to sales ... and much more."

The new 777 will fly its first revenue flight on Feb. 27, from Sydney to Los Angeles. On Monday, a columnist with the Seattle Post-Intelligencer said Boeing should pay attention to Sir Richard, and everyone in Seattle owes him thanks. "Given the astounding array of companies under his management -- transportation, retailing, entertainment and leisure, media -- Branson could hardly be expected to also run an airplane manufacturer," wrote columnist Bill Virgin. "But maybe he should."