Virgin Atlantic founder Richard Branson is a man who loves to take up challenges. At the age of 69, he has launched a cruise line, is preparing for a test flight in a spacecraft and taking on established airlines on the India-UK market. Virgin Atlantic failed on the London-Mumbai route twice before but Branson hopes the airline will be third time lucky.
It is capitalising on the growth in traffic, decline in capacity following closure of Jet Airways and its partnership with “big brother” Delta Airlines of the US.
The UK airline resumed its Mumbai flight in October and will be adding a second London-Delhi flight next March.
Branson, who was in Mumbai to promote the new flights, has ruled out investing in Air India. Branson, however, plans to invest in a hyperloop to connect Mumbai-Pune in 15 minutes. He will meet Maharashtra chief minister Uddhav Thackeray on Wednesday to clear misunderstanding around the project.
“There is no money expected from government. It will all be private investment and the public will benefit immensely because of the hyperloop,” he asserted.
While air traffic between India and the UK has grown, closure of Jet Airways reduced capacity in the market, opening up opportunity for Virgin Atlantic. Currently, Air India, British Airways and Emirates dominate the traffic on routes between the two countries.
“Our flights are going almost full and we are seeing healthy returns,” said the airline’s (Virgin’s) executive vice-president Juha Jarvinen. “We are here to stay. Adding a second Delhi flight is our commitment to the Indian market,” he added.
The airline is also exploring the option to connect Manchester with India.
Virgin Atlantic had a strong commercial partnership with Jet Airways which shut operations in April. Virgin is looking for other Indian partners which will feed its services from Mumbai and Delhi.
“There aren’t many brides with a name like Virgin. We are quite unique and we should be able to find a partner,” Branson quipped. Branson, who founded Virgin Atlantic 35 years ago and saw many rivals go bust, recently retained control over his airline. The airline sold 49 per cent stake to Delta Airlines a few years ago and was to sell another 30 per cent to Air France-KLM as a part of a wider partnership. But Branson has backed off from the plan and will not be selling the additional 30 per cent.