Virgin Atlantic (VS, London Heathrow) has joined the front-runners in the race to snap up parts of Thomas Cook Group's airline business, which the cash-strapped tour operator put up for sale in February to raise cash.

The airline has put in a preliminary offer for Thomas Cook's UK long-haul business, submitting its proposal to bankers acting for the leisure travel group, according to Sky News.

Virgin Atlantic is specifically interested in operations that serve destinations such as Cancún, Orlando Int'l and Las Vegas McCarran. That part of the business accounts for around 20% of all seats sold by Thomas Cook, operating out of London Gatwick, Manchester Int'l and, in summer, Glasgow Int'l.

Lufthansa (LH, Frankfurt Int'l) has already submitted a non-binding bid for the acquisition of Condor (DE, Frankfurt Int'l) from Thomas Cook Group, Lufthansa CEO Carsten Spohr confirmed on May 7, while Indigo Partners has also launched talks to buy airline units, Reuters has reported.

IAG International Airlines Group had previously considered joining the fray, but on May 10 its chief executive Willie Walsh told reporters, “In relation to Thomas Cook [...] we’re not putting in any bid.”

Insiders told Sky News that Thomas Cook had received proposals for its entire aviation business, which besides Condor includes Thomas Cook Airlines UK (MT, Manchester Int'l), Thomas Cook Airlines Balearics (H5, Palma de Mallorca), Thomas Cook Airlines Scandinavia (DK, Copenhagen Kastrup), and Thomas Cook Aviation (H3, Frankfurt Int'l). However, they added that any talks would be complicated by the need to include seats on the aircraft for the travel company's holiday customers.