Shares in Flybe jumped 19 per cent in morning trading after Virgin Atlantic said it was continuing to look at a range of options for the Exeter-based budget airline.
Virgin Atlantic, founded by Richard Branson, has a trading and codeshare relationship with Flybe, and in November it said it was reviewing other options to deepen the partnership, including a possible buyout of Flybe. Virgin Atlantic is now partly-owned by Delta Air.
The talks come during a boom in global air travel and also as airlines look to consolidate because of rising running costs, largely higher fuel prices, and increased competition from budget carriers.
An acquisition of Flybe would give Virgin Atlantic access to 192 routes serving 14 countries from 75 departure points in the UK and Europe.