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Virgin Air has big plans for India

May 09, 2006 17:54 IST

Richard Branson-promoted Virgin Atlantic Airways is interested in investing in the Indian civil aviation sector once the Union government relaxes regulations for foreign airlines to pick up stake in domestic carriers.

"The virgin group is interested in investing airlines across the globe. In India, aviation sector is booming and we are definitely looking at investing in India," Virgin Atlantic GM (India) Joe Thompson told PTI in Mumbai on Tuesday.

The company is looking at picking up stake in domestic budget carriers.

"But nothing has been decided... what I can say is that the market in India is definitely interesting and the conditions are so good for investment," Thompson said.

Terming the government policy of not allowing a foreign airline to pick up stake in domestic carriers, as a 'setback' to Virgin's plans, Thompson said his company would be looking at opportunities once the Centre relaxes regulations.

According to civil aviation policy guidelines, no foreign airlines are allowed to buy stake in Indian carriers. "But the policy allows Richard Branson as an individual to invest in Indian carriers as the government allows FII up to 49 per cent in the aviation sector," market sources said.

Virgin planned to pick up stake in Air Deccan and Richard Branson had discussions with the airline CMD G R Gopinath but the talks remained unfruitful due to civil aviation policy guidelines. Virgin clarified that Branson was not interested in investing Air Deccan in his individual capacity.

Thompson said, Virgin Atlantic was actively looking at expanding its route network across the country.

"Presently, we are flying to Mumbai and Delhi everyday. We will be expanding our network to South India," he said.

The airline is considering operating direct flights from Chennai, Hyderabad and Bangalore to London. Meanwhile, it will be increasing its number of flights to Mumbai and New Delhi.

The airline on Tuesday introduced upper class suite in India offering comfortable reclining leather seat for take off and converts into a fully flat bed.

"With this we are expecting a 15-20 per cent passenger increase in the upper first class," Thompson said.

The airline was also thinking of providing mobile connectivity in the air, but it was in the premature state, he said.

The upper class suite is available in all Virgin's Boeing 747-400, Airbus A 340-600 and A 340-300 aircraft. The A 340-300 aircraft operating on the Indian routes has been configured with 34 upper class suites, 35 premium economy seats and 171 seats in the economy class.

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