|Commenced operations||22 June 1984|
|Frequent-flyer program||Flying Club|
|Airport lounge||Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse|
|Headquarters||Crawley, United Kingdom|
|Revenue||£2.90 billion (2013)|
|Operating income||£-128.4 million (2013)|
Virgin Atlantic, a trading name of Virgin Atlantic Airways Limited, is a British airline held 51% by the Virgin Group and 49% by Delta Air Lines, with its head office in Crawley, West Sussex, England. The airline was established in 1984 as British Atlantic Airways, and was originally planned by its co-founders Randolph Fields and Alan Hellary to fly between London and the Falkland Islands. Soon after changing the name to Virgin Atlantic Airways, Fields sold his shares in the company after disagreements with Richard Branson over the management of the company. The maiden flight from Gatwick to Newark Liberty International Airport took place on 22 June 1984.
Virgin Atlantic uses a mixed fleet of Airbus and Boeing wide-body jets and operates between the United Kingdom, North America, the Caribbean, Africa, the Middle East and Asia from its main bases at London Heathrow and Gatwick. The airline also operates a secondary base at Manchester, as well as a seasonal base from Glasgow. The airline has operated domestic flights within the United Kingdom since 31 March 2013. It is administratively separate from other Virgin-branded airlines.
In 2012, Virgin Atlantic carried 5.4 million passengers, making it the seventh-largest UK airline in terms of passenger volume. In the year to 31 December 2013, it reported a £51 millions group pre-tax loss (approximately US$87 million).
- 1 History
- 2 Corporate affairs
- 3 Destinations
- 4 Fleet
- 5 Marketing
- 6 Services
- 7 Incidents and accidents
- 8 See also
- 9 Notes and citations
- 10 Further reading
- 11 External links
Conception and birth
Randolph Fields, an American-born lawyer, and Alan Hellary, a former chief pilot for Laker Airways, set up British Atlantic Airways as a successor to Laker Airways. Fields had the idea for an airline that operates between London and the Falkland Islands in June 1982, when the Falklands War had just finished. Fields needed expertise, and contacted Alan Hellary, who had also been thinking about establishing a regular commercial service to the Falklands. Hellary was in contact with colleagues out of work following the collapse of Laker Airways, and they developed the idea.
However, the short runway at Port Stanley Airport and the time it would take to improve it made the scheme unviable, so the idea of the Falklands service was dropped. Instead, Hellary and Fields tried to secure a licence from Gatwick Airport to John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York City. A three-day inquiry in May 1983 rejected the application after British Airways, British Caledonian, and BAA objected.
Hellary and Fields then applied for a licence between Gatwick and Newark, using a 380-seat McDonnell Douglas DC-10. However, faced with the prospect of direct competition from People Express, a post-deregulation "no frills" discount airline at Newark, they decided to secure more funding before proceeding.
Fields met Richard Branson at a party in London during which he proposed a business partnership. After protracted and testy negotiations, Fields agreed to a reduced stake of 25% in the airline (renamed Virgin Atlantic) and became its first chairman. Following disagreements over operations, Fields agreed to be bought out for an initial sum of £1 million with further payment on Virgin's first dividend. As a result of a High Court action, this additional payment was received shortly before Fields' death in 1997.
On 22 June 1984, Virgin Atlantic operated its inaugural scheduled service between Gatwick and Newark using a leased Boeing 747-200 (registration G-VIRG), christened Maiden Voyager, formerly operated by Aerolíneas Argentinas. Part of Richard Branson's approach to business is to succeed within the first year or exit the market. This includes a one-year limit on everything associated with starting up. Virgin Atlantic became profitable within the first 12 months, aided by sister company Virgin Records' ability to finance the lease of a secondhand Boeing 747. The firm timed operations to take advantage of a full summer, from June to September – the most profitable period of the year.
In 1986, the airline added another Boeing 747 and started a scheduled route from Gatwick to Miami. Additional aircraft were acquired and routes launched from Gatwick to New York JFK (1988), Tokyo (1989), Los Angeles (1990), Boston (1991), and Orlando (1992). In 1987, a service was launched between Luton and Dublin using Viscount turboprop aircraft, but this was withdrawn around 1990. In 1988, Club Air operated two Boeing 727 jet aircraft on behalf of Virgin. These served the Luton to Dublin route until about 1990.
Since its inception, British Airways had been the only airline from the United Kingdom serving long-haul routes to destinations in North America, the Caribbean, and the Far East since the BA-BCal merger in the late 1980s. In 1991, Virgin was given permission to operate from Heathrow following the abolition of the London Air Traffic Distribution Rules (TDRs) which had governed the distribution of traffic between Heathrow and Gatwick airports since 1978, primarily to bolster the profitability of Gatwick. Airlines without an international scheduled service from Heathrow prior to 1 April 1977 were obliged to operate from Gatwick. However, airlines that did not already operate at Heathrow were still able to begin domestic scheduled services there provided BAA, which ran both Heathrow and Gatwick on behalf of the UK Government, and the Secretary of State for Transport granted permission.
According to industry insiders, Virgin Atlantic had increasing financial problems during this period. The British government wished to avoid the collapse of a significant independent airline, with Dan-Air on the brink of bankruptcy, and therefore decided to let Virgin Atlantic into Heathrow, despite opposition from British Airways. The Civil Aviation Authority also transferred two pairs of unused landing slots that British Airways held at Tokyo's Narita Airport to Virgin to let it increase its frequency between Heathrow and Tokyo from four to six weekly round trips, making it easier for Virgin to compete against British Airways. King called the CAA's decision, which the Government had endorsed, "a confiscation of his company's property".
Even so, Richard Branson was forced to sell Virgin Records in 1992 to EMI to raise capital to shore up Virgin Atlantic's position. In the year to October 1993, Virgin Atlantic declared a loss of £9.3m. The decision to abolish the London TDRs and to let Virgin Atlantic operate at Heathrow in competition with British Airways became the trigger for BA's so-called "dirty tricks" campaign against Virgin. In 1993, BA's public relations director, David Burnside, published an article in BA News, British Airways' internal magazine, which argued that Branson's protests against British Airways were a publicity stunt. Branson sued British Airways for libel, using the services of George Carman QC. BA settled out of court when its lawyers discovered the lengths to which the company had gone in trying to kill off Virgin. British Airways had to pay a legal bill of up to £3 million, damages to Branson of £500,000 and a further £110,000 to his airline. Branson reportedly donated the proceeds from the case to Virgin Atlantic staff.
In the 1990s, Virgin Atlantic jets were painted with "No-Way BA/AA" in opposition to the attempted merger between British Airways and American Airlines. In 1997, following British Airways' announcement that it was to remove the Union Flag from its tailfins in favour of world images, Virgin introduced a Union Flag design on the winglets of its aircraft and changed the red dress on the Scarlet Lady on the nose of aircraft to the union flag with the tag line "Britain's Flag Carrier". This was a tongue-in-cheek challenge to BA's traditional role as the UK's flag carrier.
In June 2006, US and UK competition authorities investigated alleged price fixing between Virgin Atlantic and British Airways over passenger fuel surcharges. In August 2007, BA was fined £271 million by the UK Office of Fair Trading (OFT) and the US Department of Justice. However, the Chief Executive of Virgin Atlantic, Steve Ridgway, was forced to admit that the company had been a party to the agreement, had been aware of the price fixing and had taken no steps whatsoever to stop the price fixing. The company escaped a similar fine to that levied on British Airways only by virtue of the immunity it had earlier negotiated with the regulators.
In 2003, Virgin Atlantic carried 3.8 million passengers. This increased to 4.6 million in 2006, placing it seventh among UK airlines. During the 2012 Summer Olympics bids, Virgin Atlantic attached London 2012 decals to the rear of many of its Boeing 747-400s.
On 27 September 2006, Branson announced plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by cutting aircraft weight and fuel consumption. There was also an experiment in 2007 in partnership with Boeing to have aircraft towed to the runway to save fuel, as a potential change to future operational procedures. Virgin also volunteered a Boeing 747 for a test of biofuels in February 2008. The aircraft flew without passengers from Heathrow to Amsterdam Airport Schiphol, with 20% of the power for one engine provided by plant-based biofuel. Virgin said that it expected to use algae-based biofuels in the future.
In April 2010, a tip-off from Cathay Pacific led to the OFT investigating alleged price fixing between Virgin Atlantic and Cathay Pacific on flights to Hong Kong between 2002 and 2006. Cathay Pacific received immunity from prosecution for reporting the alleged offence. A maximum fine, if found guilty, was 10% of turnover which based on the £2.5 billion in sales for the year to February 2009 would have been £250 million. At the time, the OFT stressed that it should not be assumed that the parties involved had broken the law. The OFT cleared both airlines in December 2012, concluding there were "no grounds for action".
In 2012, Delta Airlines acquired the 49% stake in Virgin Airlines formerly held by Singapore Airlines. In December 2012, International Airlines Group CEO, Willie Walsh, suggested that the loss-making company would be history within five years. “I can’t see Delta wanting to operate the Virgin brand because if they do what does that say about the Delta brand? I just don’t see that the guy (Branson) has anything that stands out in terms of what he has achieved in the industry.” 
In May 2014, Virgin Airlines ended flights to Sydney. In September 2014, Virgin Airlines announced plans to scrap flights to Tokyo, Mumbai, Vancouver and Cape Town and to code-share transatlantic flights with Delta Air Lines. The company was also reported to be considering axing its new 'Little Red' domestic airline after suffering heavy losses.
Virgin Atlantic's head office, known as The Office, is located on a business park in Crawley, West Sussex, England, near Gatwick Airport and also houses the corporate offices of Virgin Holidays. The company operates several offices and call centres around the world, with a large call centre in Swansea, Wales, dealing with reservations, baggage claims and customer complaints. Other offices are located at Norwalk, Connecticut; Johannesburg; Barbados; Lagos; Dubai; Greater Delhi; Hong Kong; Shanghai; and Tokyo.
49% of the airline was sold in 1999 to Singapore Airlines for £600 million. On 14 May 2008, the company formally announced an invitation for offers for its Virgin Atlantic stake, and publicly acknowledged that its stake in the airline had "underperformed". In November 2010 it was reported that Virgin Atlantic had appointed Deutsche Bank to begin a strategic review of options for the airline following the tie-up between British Airways and American Airlines. By February 2011 it was confirmed that SkyTeam members Air France-KLM and Delta Air Lines had appointed Goldman Sachs to advise them on a joint potential approach for Virgin Atlantic. Etihad Airways was also reported to be considering a deal, and Willie Walsh, chief executive of International Airlines Group, stated that they would be interested in the airline, but only for the lucrative take-off and landing slots it holds at London Heathrow Airport. On 11 December 2012, Delta Air Lines confirmed the purchase of Singapore Airlines' 49% stake in Virgin Atlantic for just £224 million, with future plans to develop a transatlantic joint venture. Regulatory approval from the United States and European Union was granted on 20 June 2013, and the purchase was completed on 24 June.
The key trends for Virgin Atlantic over recent years are shown below (figures are for each year ending end February; they exclude Virgin Nigeria 2005–2008):
|Profits (EBT) (£m)||68.0||77.5||46.8||22.9||68.4||−132.0||18.5||−80.2||−69.9|
|Number of employees||c.9,000||9,580|
|Number of passengers (m)||4.5||4.9||5.7||5.8||5.5||5.5||5.3||5.4||5.5|
|- passenger change year-on-year||8.9%||15.4%||1.4%||5.2%||2.3%||0.3%||2%||3.5%|
|Passenger load factor (%)||74.3||72.8||76.5||76.9||78.9||82.5||77.5||78.1||79|
|Number of aircraft (at year end)||40||40|
BMI provided domestic and European feeder traffic into Heathrow Airport  until purchased by British Airways' parent company International Airlines Group in 2011. The Lufthansa-owned airline had faced heavy annual losses of more than £100 million. Under the terms of the takeover, IAG had to relinquish some former BMI domestic slots at Heathrow. In 2012, Virgin Atlantic acquired enough slots to start a domestic service from 31 March 2013 under the "Little Red" brand, operating a total of 12 daily services from London to Aberdeen (3), Edinburgh (6), and Manchester (3). Despite the Virgin branding, the four Airbus A320s utilized for the flights are wet-leased from Aer Lingus on a three year contact; in September 2014, it was reported that Virgin was considering closing its domestic airline after suffering heavy losses, with Civil Aviation Authority figures confirming an average seat occupancy level of just 37.6% in 2013. The 12 daily pairs of take-off and landing slots at Heathrow cannot be sold for long-haul routes.
|This section is outdated. (May 2014)|
Virgin Atlantic uses a mixed fleet of Airbus and Boeing aircraft, with an average age of 9.6 years as of February 2014. Boeing 747-400s and Airbus A330-300s are used on selected routes from Gatwick, Glasgow, and Manchester, with the A330 being used on other flights as well. Boeing 747s, Airbus A340s and Airbus A330s are used interchangeably on all routes from Heathrow. In August 2002, Virgin Atlantic became the first airline to operate the Airbus A340-600. The ageing Airbus A340-300 aircraft is due to be phased out of commercial service, as rising fuel costs have made it less economical to run. Virgin has begun to use the two-engine A330-300 on routes operated by the A340-300.
Virgin Atlantic has orders for Boeing 787-9 and Airbus A380-800 aircraft for delivery beginning 2014 and 2018, respectively. The A380 was projected to enter service in 2006, but a variety of excuses have been given by the airline for not taking delivery. The order for 16 Boeing 787-9s, with options on eight more and purchase rights on 20 more, was announced on 24 April 2007. Virgin have since exercised 5 options and the total firm order is for 21 aircraft. The 5 exercised options will replace the Heathrow 747 fleet in 2015 & 2016. The airline's Boeing 747-400s were refurbished in 2012 with new seating and inflight entertainment system. Airbus A330s, in three-class layout, were stationed at Heathrow Airport in April 2012. 4 Airbus A320 were wet leased from Aer Lingus in March 2013 for 'Little Red' domestic flights within the United Kingdom.
Virgin Atlantic's fleet consists of the following aircraft as of September 2014:
|Airbus A340-300||2||—||—||34||35||171||240||Phased out by 2018|
|Airbus A380-800||—||6||6||TBA||Entry into service: 2018|
|Boeing 787-9||—||16||0||31||35||198||264||Deliveries from September 2014|
In the past, Virgin Atlantic has operated a variety of aircraft. The retired fleet includes:
|Airbus A320-200||1995–2000||One leased for a London to Athens service, replaced by an A321 in 2000.|
|Airbus A321-200||2000–2003||Leased for a London to Athens service to replace an A320, named Hellenic Beauty|
|Boeing 747-100||1990–2000||G-VMIA named 'Spirit of Sir Freddie' after Sir Freddie Laker.|
|Boeing 747-200||1984–2005||G-VIRG was Virgin's first aircraft.|
Virgin's first aircraft were painted with a "Eurowhite" design with a red stripe through the centre of the main deck windows. The engines were metallic silver and the tail red with the Virgin logo in white. In the 1990s, the refreshed design was introduced, removing the centre red stripe through the windows, engines were painted red, the Virgin Atlantic titles in grey were added along the main fuselage, and the 'Flying Lady' was introduced to the nose area. In October 2006, with the delivery of G-VRED, Virgin introduced a new design, with the fuselage painted in metallic silver and a revised tail fin, with red and purple features and the Virgin logo. Near the nose of each aircraft is a pin-up girl, the "Scarlet Lady", carrying a Union flag, which was designed by British artist Ken White, who modelled the motif on the World War II pin-ups of Alberto Vargas – hence the naming one of the fleet Varga Girl.
Each aircraft has a name, usually feminine, such as Ladybird, Island Lady, and Ruby Tuesday, but some are linked to registrations (e.g. G-VFIZ became Bubbles). There are a couple of commemorative names (e.g. G-VEIL—Queen of the Skies—which was named by Queen Elizabeth II on 7 April 2004, in celebration of the centenary of the Entente Cordiale). An exception is Spirit of Sir Freddie. An early Boeing 747, it was named in honour of Freddie Laker of Laker Airways, who helped Virgin Atlantic following the demise of his own airline. G-VFAB—Lady Penelope—gained a special livery to celebrate Virgin Atlantic's 21st birthday.
The current livery dates from 2010 and returns to the "Eurowhite" design featuring purple billboard titles on the fuselage, slight changes to the Scarlet Lady, and new red metallic paint for the aircraft's tail and engines. The wingtips are red, with the Virgin logo on the inside facing passengers on board. The Virgin Atlantic logo was also added in purple billboard titles to the underside of the aircraft.
Over the years, Virgin has used many slogans, including:
- "No Way BA/AA": Used in the late 1990s on several 747-400s to gain publicity after the announcement of a proposed British Airways – American Airlines partnership and returned in September 2008 after merger talks between British Airways, Iberia Airlines and American Airlines began.
- "Britain's Flag Carrier" : When British Airways adopted its successful "ethnic liveries", Virgin painted the Union Flag on its fleet's winglets.
- "4 engines 4 long haul" : At a time when competitors were switching to ETOPS twin engine airliners, Virgin's fleet of A340s and B747s was all 4-engined, hinting at greater safety on long routes. The slogan was hastily removed when orders for A330s and B787s were announced.
- "Still Red Hot For 25 Years": Introduced as part of the 25th anniversary television advertisement in 2009.
- "Your Airline's Either Got It, Or It Hasn't": Revamped 2010 slogan, which made its first appearance on the new commercial, alongside a new logo and livery.
- "Flying in the face of ordinary (FITFOO)": appeared alongside a brand new advertising campaign which tried to differentiate Virgin Atlantic staff from its competition
Most Virgin Atlantic aircraft are in a three-class cabin configuration: Economy, Premium Economy, and Upper Class, though some A330s do not have Upper Class. Premium Economy has a separate check-in area, priority boarding and a wider seat with more legroom. Upper Class features a seat that converts into a fully flat bed and access to chauffeur drive. Virgin Atlantic was the first airline to offer personal entertainment for all passengers in all classes. The airline's frequent-flyer program is styled 'the Flying Club'.
Incidents and accidents
- On 5 November 1997, after numerous attempts to shake free the jammed main landing gear of an Airbus A340-300 (G-VSKY) failed, the aircraft en route from Los Angeles to Heathrow, made an emergency landing at Heathrow Airport. The aircraft sustained major damage to the undersides of engines 1, 2, and 4, which made contact with the runway surface during landing. The runway surface was also damaged and several runway lights were broken as the right main landing gear wheels broke up during the deceleration. The aircraft was evacuated safely. Two crew members and five passengers sustained minor injuries during the evacuation.
- On 8 February 2005, on board an Airbus A340-600 aircraft (G-VATL) en route from Hong Kong to Heathrow, the fuel control computer system caused a loss of automatic fuel transfer between tanks. The left outboard engine lost power, and shortly afterwards the right outboard engine also began to falter until the crew began to crossfeed fuel manually. The crew diverted to Amsterdam and landed safely. The interim accident report made four safety recommendations addressed to the primary certification bodies for large transport category aircraft (EASA and the FAA), advising on the need for a low-fuel warning system for large aircraft.
- Air transport in the United Kingdom
- List of airports in the United Kingdom
- Transport in the United Kingdom
Notes and citations
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- Milmo, Dan (8 January 2013). "Virgin Atlantic hires American Airlines executive as new CEO". The Guardian (London). Retrieved 1 August 2013.
- "Virgin Atlantic Directors". Virgin Atlantic. 2013. Retrieved 1 August 2013.
- "All Services 2012". Civil Aviation Authority. Retrieved 23 June 2013.
- Young, Sarah (24 April 2014). "Virgin Atlantic plots course for return to profit this year". Reuters. Retrieved 20 May 2014.
- "Type A Operating Licence Holders". Civil Aviation Authority. Retrieved 18 July 2013.
- Aircraft Illustrated – Virgin Birth. Ian Allan. pp. 48–51. ISSN 0002-2675.
- West Sussex County Times. 20 January 1984. p. 1.
- Bamber, G.J.; Gittell, J.H.; Kochan, T.von Nordenflytch, A. (2009). "chapter 5". Up in the Air: How Airlines Can Improve Performance by Engaging their Employees. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.
- "Operation of the UK Traffic Distribution Rules in relation to all-cargo services at London Heathrow Airport". BAA Heathrow. Retrieved 12 February 2009.
- Velotta, Richard N. (21 May 2012). "Virgin Atlantic, British airways to do battle over Las Vegas". Las Vegas Sun. Retrieved 3 August 2013.
- "Virgin's battle of Britain with BA". BBC News. 7 June 1999. Retrieved 30 November 2011.
- "Virgin tip-off 'led to BA probe'". BBC News. 23 June 2006. Retrieved 30 November 2011.
- "US judge upholds BA's $300m fine". BBC News. 23 August 2007. Retrieved 30 November 2011.
- Osborne, Alistair (14 July 2009). "Virgin boss caught up in BA price fixing case". The Daily Telegraph (London). Retrieved 15 July 2009.
- "2003 UK Airline Statistics". Civil Aviation Authority. Retrieved 9 March 2008.
- "2006 UK Airline Statistics". Civil Aviation Authority. Retrieved 9 March 2008.
- "Virgin Atlantic Operates Relief Flight To Islamabad, Pakistan" (Press release). Virgin Atlantic. 31 October 2005. Retrieved 31 December 2009.
- "Virgin Atlantic Makes Europe's Largest Single Order For Fuel-Efficient Boeing 787 Dreamlines" (Press release). Virgin Atlantic. 24 April 2007. Retrieved 13 August 2011.
- "First biofuel flight touches down". BBC News. 24 February 2008. Retrieved 24 February 2008.
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- Wearden, Graeme (22 April 2010). "OFT accuses Virgin Atlantic and Cathay Pacific of price-fixing". The Guardian (London). Retrieved 1 August 2013.
- Larson, Erik; Lundgren, Kari (14 December 2012). "Virgin Atlantic, Cathay Pacific Cleared in U.K. Price-Fix Probe". Bloomberg (New York). Retrieved 1 August 2013.
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- Andrew Parker (16 May 2013). "Virgin Atlantic chief vows return to profit". Financial Times (London). Retrieved 3 August 2013.
- Mark Odell (19 November 2012). "Virgin set to boost short-haul ambitions". Financial Times. Retrieved 29 July 2013.
- "Virgin Atlantic unveils UK airline service". BBC News Online. 1 March 2013. Retrieved 1 March 2013.
- David Kaminski-Morrow (10 December 2012). "Virgin Atlantic to wet-lease A320s from Aer Lingus". London: Flightglobal. Retrieved 14 December 2012.
- Ciara Kenny (8 April 2013). "Aer Lingus to operate third UK route for Virgin". Irish Times (Dublin). Retrieved 3 August 2013.
- Andrew Clark (8 September 2014). "Little Red could be thrown to the wolves and shut by ruthless Virgin". London: The Times. Retrieved 8 September 2014.
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- Robert Wall (17 July 2013). "Virgin Atlantic Delays Buying Airbus A380, Monitors Boeing 787". Bloomberg. Retrieved 18 July 2013.
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- David Flynn (26 April 2014). "Virgin Atlantic cautious on Airbus A380, bullish on Boeing 787". Australian Business Traveller. Retrieved 30 April 2014.
- "Marketplace". Flight International: 8. 11 April 2000.
- "Virgin Atlantic upgrades Athens service with introduction of A321". Flight International: 12. 6 June 2000.
- Branwell Johnson (29 July 2010). "Virgin Atlantic flies high with new brand livery and identity". Marketing Week (London). Retrieved 1 December 2011.
- Clark, Pilita (11 April 2010). "Branson attacks watchdog over BA-AA pact". FT.com. Retrieved 30 November 2011.
- Mark Sweney (5 January 2009). "Virgin Atlantic goes back to 1984 – Rubik's Cubes and all – for 25th birthday TV ad". The Guardian. Retrieved 1 December 2011.
- "Upper Class transfers". Virgin Atlantic. Retrieved 30 June 2012.
- "Report on the accident to Airbus A340-300, G-VSKY, at London Heathrow Airport on 5 November 1997". Air Accident Investigations Branch. 2000. Retrieved 14 March 2009.
- "Airbus A340-642, G-VATL". Air Accident Investigations Branch. 2006. Retrieved 26 July 2007.
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