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Virgin plans daily flights from Delhi, Mumbai

Last updated on: November 27, 2003 13:59 IST

Virgin Atlantic, which now operates three flights a week to London, plans to launch daily services from New Delhi and Mumbai, and start direct flights from Hyderabad and Bangalore, its top official said in New Delhi.

Pointing out that talks between Britain and India on bilateral air traffic rights were slated in January, Virgin CEO Steve Ridgway told reporters that the premier British carrier not only wanted to "continue and upgrade" its codeshare arrangement with Air-India, but also have its own rights to fly into India.

However, the bilateral issue was still in a "fluid" situation and could be sorted out at the proposed talks, he said, adding the British government has written to India on the matter.

The Virgin officials, Ridgway said, had met Civil Aviation Minister Rajiv Pratap Rudy earlier in the week in this connection.

He said A-I had "benefited substantially" from the codeshare arrangement with Virgin, which had the scope of raising the current level of flights (three) to a maximum of six. With the third flight, launched on October 26, Virgin now operates on Monday, Thursday and Saturday from New Delhi to London.

The Virgin CEO suggested that Air-India could operate to the United States from Gatwick (United Kingdom) or any other European destinations like Frankfurt or Paris. A-I has already started its US-flights via Frankfurt.

He said he was hopeful the Heathrow slot would "no longer be an issue" between India and Britain at the next round of bilateral negotiations.

Ridgway also hoped the British government would grant the airline its own bilateral rights to operate to India as it wanted to promote competition. "British Airways operates 19 flights a week and we have no rights of our own. We only operate (three flights) on codeshare with A-I."

On the limited 'open sky' policy, he and the airline's director Barry Humphreys said they found the three-month open sky system short and preferred it on a sustained basis.

They said they also wanted to sell India as a premier tourist destination and had already tied up with their own tour operator, Virgin Holidays, which is the largest in Britain, to bring in-bound tourists.

Asked about A-I's demand for a proper landing slot at Heathrow which has been a bone of contention between the two governments, Ridgway said it was "very, very difficult" to get such a slot as the trans-Atlantic slots at Heathrow were governed by European rules and not by British alone.

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