After Jet Airway’s collapse, many international airlines are queuing up for Indian skies, looking to fill the huge gap in international air routes that the airline’s debacle has created.
Richard Branson’s Virgin Atlantic is back in India for the third time with a direct flight from Mumbai to Heathrow. Although Branson apprehensively says he hopes to be ‘third time lucky’ with the route in India, he says the Indian market, particularly traffic on the Mumbai-London route has increased significantly and that it is the right time to be back in the country.
“There are airlines who will keep losing millions of dollars on a route but not shut it down due to embarrassment. One of the reasons that Virgin Atlantic has survived thirty years is that if there is a route that is bleeding money, we will put it on to a route that can make money."
"And then, we can hopefully come back to that route. That was the case with Mumbai. It was expensive at some stage, we feel now is the right time to come back. And I don’t think we can come back a fourth time unless we are convinced that we can make a gain of it,” Branson, Virgin Atlantic, told correspondents in Mumbai.
“The Mumbai market has grown 25 percent over past five year period, and it gives us confidence that it is the right time for us to return to India, especially after the demise of Jet Airways. We were lucky to have been working with Jet Airways very closely to establish ourselves in the Indian market. It was, therefore, a natural step for us to re-enter the market when Jet Airways left the market,” Juha Jarvinen, executive vice president, commercial, Virgin Atlantic told reporters.
"We are actively looking for Indian airline partners. We have no preference yet, but we would be happy to team up with an Indian airline to give us strength in the domestic connectivity," Jarvinen added. He also said that India is poised to become the third-largest aviation market by 2025.
Branson also cited Virgin Atlantic’s growing international network – owing to its partnership with Delta Air – as another reason for returning to Mumbai now. "We can now send anyone from India to America seamlessly now thanks to Delta, anywhere in Europe with Virgin Connect and with KLM and Air France which we didn’t have earlier,” Branson said.
Jarvinen added that roughly 80 percent of the passenger traffic is directed to the UK, giving Virgin Atlantic a strong position in the local market. Only 20 percent of the traffic goes beyond the UK. Virgin Atlantic will also add a second daily flight to London from Delhi soon. The addition of the second flight will triple the airline’s capacity in India.
Going forward, Virgin Atlantic said it is interested in opening up the Manchester-India route in the future, although there is no confirmation on the timelines yet.