Virgin America nears decision over Orange County service launch

Washington DC
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Virgin America plans to make a decision within 30 days about utilizing five slots it has won at the Orange County, California airport.

The San Francisco-based carrier was among many airlines vying for spots at the airport including Air Canada, WestJet and Alaska Air Group subsidiary Horizon Air.

On 15 December during an interview with ATI at Virgin America's headquarters carrier CEO David Cush said the airline has requested slots at the airport since 2007.

Virgin America already serves four destinations nonstop from nearby Los Angeles International Airport, which is about 41 miles (66km) southeast of Orange County's John Wayne Airport.

The carrier also plans to serve Los Angeles from its newest city Boston. Virgin America's service is scheduled to start on 12 February.

Boston became its latest destination after Virgin America delayed plans to launch flights from Chicago O'Hare next year due to an unfavourable resolution in acquiring gates at the airport.

Yet Cush remains confident of Virgin America adding O'Hare to its network in 2010. He believes a number of carriers are interested in moving around at the airport, with the coordination of the merged Delta Air Lines and Northwest Airlines "likely creating opportunities".

After refining its fleet plans from 35 Airbus narrowbodies to 28 for 2009, Cush says Virgin America's block hours in 2009 will grow by 40%, with capacity expanding 45% year-over-year. The carrier will reach that 28 aircraft level by the first quarter of next 2009.

With fuel prices down dramatically from record highs posted in July Cush explains Virgin America is "a little more focused on long-haul".

Markets such as JFK-Los Angeles and JFK-San Francisco were part of its initial roll-out last year, and have reached the 12-15 month maturity markers.

Cush declines to supply specific operating data, and the carrier does not have to publicly release it until DOT rules on its appeal to keep that information confidential. But he does say Virgin America is "quite happy" with JFK-Los Angeles, and notes JFK-San Francisco is "very strong".