Virgin Atlantic eyes growth in India, US

Source: Business Standard

CEO rules out investment in India, feels UK travel bond will not jeopardize travel.

After concluding a joint venture deal with Delta Airlines, Virgin Atlantic Airways was eyeing a bigger pie of the lucrative India-US market, Virgin Atlantic’s chief executive Craig Kreeger said on Monday. He ruled out investment in an Indian carrier, saying Virgin Atlantic was in talks with global airlines for code sharing on its routes within the UK.

Known for its flamboyant and trendy image, Virgin Atlantic is a minnow among airlines due to a small fleet and limited network. Though it flies to Delhi and Mumbai daily, as well as to nine cities in the US, it has a smaller network compared to British Airways, which flies to five cities in India and twenty destinations in the US. Along with its code-sharing partner American Airlines, British Airways could offer 200 additional destinations.

“We are seeing growth in the India-US market. The combination of our excellent timing and our products and services is working well for us,” Kreeger told Business Standard. The tie-up with Delta, which acquired Singapore Airline’s 49 per cent stake in Virgin Atlantic earlier this year, offers the airline an opportunity to expand the US network.

The two airlines have already announced code-shares, reciprocal frequent flyer programmes and lounge access and are awaiting the US government’s approval to cooperate on creating joint schedules, fares, etc. Kreeger said the joint venture was likely to be kick-started in January 2014. The deal allows Virgin Atlantic to sell on Delta’s flights beyond London to points in the US, as well as on Delta’s domestic routes in the US, increasing its revenue possibilities.

Virgin Atlantic also plans to scale up its corporate business in India. “Last year, we entered the Mumbai market with a different approach. We took a valuable asset, a peak time landing slot in London. We felt this market needed connectivity to the US, Manchester and Scotland. From both directions, we are able to offer greater connections. We are actively involved in expanding corporate sales,” Kreeger said.

He refused to specify on expanding code-share with Jet Airways. The airline was in talks with various carriers that didn’t partner British Airways, he said, adding Virgin Atlantic was keen to connect on domestic routes in the UK. The airline was evaluating plans to join Air France-KLM-Delta-led SkyTeam, a global grouping of airlines, he said.

“Security of borders and immigration is in the purview of the government but I have expressed concern to the British High Commission in India over the proposed bond for Indian travellers,” he said, adding any possible restriction would only have a modest impact on travel to the UK. According to information made available by the High Commission, if applicable on Indians, the move would impact less than one per cent of UK visa applicants, Kreeger said. “The visa acceptance rate is 90 per cent. So, this will not impact any of the 90 per cent who are currently getting a visa. More impediments in the way of transportation are not good, but I am optimistic its impact would be modest,” he said.