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Virgin to resume Mumbai flights soon

By Aneesh Phadnis
October 04, 2012 08:58 IST
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Virgin AtlanticThe Virgin Atlantic airline will resume its London-Mumbai flights in October, after a hiatus of three years.

The Richard Branson-owned airline's move comes six months after Kingfisher Airlines suspended its London flights and plans to join Virgin's rival British Airways-led oneworld alliance.

Kingfisher's entry into oneworld would have given British Airways a bigger passenger feed from Indian market, and made difficult for Virgin to grab market share.

Virgin had operated London-Mumbai flights between 2005 and 2009.

Its return comes at a time when other foreign airlines are cutting down on their flights in India or pulling out altogether, citing increase in operating costs and charges at Delhi airport.

Virgin's CEO Steve Ridgway said that his airline will be able to attract airline passengers from India.

"We had to withdraw our service in 2009 due to the global economic slowdown, but we always said if it was economically viable we would come back.

The time is now right, with the Mumbai-London market growing by nine per cent since 2009, and we are looking forward to starting our flights next month and serving the people of Mumbai," Ridgway said in an email response to Business Standard.

Virgin currently flies on the Delhi-London route.

Mumbai-London is the second busiest international route from Mumbai and the 12th busiest route from London (1 million passengers flew on this route last year, according to Virgin).

Currently, Air India, British Airways and Jet Airways fly five times daily between the cities.

There are also Gulf-based and European carriers who link the two cities, making it a very competitive market. Emirates has eight daily flights between Dubai and London

and carries a large percentage of fliers on the route.

"The Mumbai-London market is crowded, but there is a room for a direct service," said an aviation expert.

According to him, for the past few years, four or five airlines from both India and the UK are operating flights on the route.

British Midland airlines was the first to pull out from the route and its place was taken by Kingfisher.

And now, Virgin is taking the space vacated by Kingfisher.

"Yield retention on the route is difficult because of the intense competition.

"Airlines need to deploy planes with the right seat configuration (260 plus seats) and get 75 per cent loads to retain yields," the expert said.

"Kingfisher flew an Airbus A-330 on the route with 217 seats. You can't make a profit with even 95 per cent loads with this configuration," he added.

There is cut-throat competition on the route and Virgin will have a tough time to shake off the well-established Jet and the British Airways," he added.

Virgin's prime focus remains its premium service, and this time the airline is introducing its new Airbus A330 on the route with 266 seats (33 upper class, 48 premium economy and 185 economy).

Previously, it flew an Airbus A340 on this sector with 220 seats.

"At the core of our brand is our unique product and premium service. We are a global brand with local relevance. . .

"Our cabins, our crew and our service are our biggest differentiators," said Ridgway.

The airline boasts of the longest bed in the business class (upper class) and an on board bar.

"We have one of the biggest market shares between Delhi and London (19 per cent). We also have the second largest market share (25.1 per cent) between Delhi and Newark and strong growth across cabins, especially in business class," Ridway claimed.

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Aneesh Phadnis in Mumbai
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