Branson says Sydney is springboard to expansion

Sir Richard Branson's Virgin Group is evaluating several potential new markets to expand his airline empire worldwide, as it prepares to launch the African operation Virgin Nigeria. These new ventures look likely to spark new competitions for the supply of additional aircraft to the group.

Speaking during Virgin Atlantic's inaugural service from London to Sydney via Hong Kong, Branson said that opportunities to take the airline brand into various new markets, including China/Asia, India and the Pacific, were being evaluated using different methods.

"Virgin Group and myself are looking to invest in an Indian airline, or set up a new carrier," he says. This could see the creation of a standalone airline to compete in India's burgeoning low-cost market, possibly in conjunction with an existing player.

"If you could get air fares down to the price of a train ticket, millions would start travelling by air. We believe that is doable," he says, adding that plans should become clearer within the first four months of next year.

Australian low-cost airline Virgin Blue, in which Branson's company holds a 25.1% stake, is the vehicle employed for the venture in the China region, with Air Macau seen as the leading candidate for a link. "Virgin Blue is in discussions with a number of airlines in China and the region about maybe taking a stake," says Branson.

Further down the road, Branson expects that the Virgin brand will be operating across the Pacific, possibly through a new locally based airline: "In some form or other a Virgin company will end up in the Pacific market in the future - watch this space," he says.


Source: Flight International