Virgin, Maharajah Make Up, Bookings Start Again

New Delhi, July 29: | Updated: Jul 30 2002, 05:30am hrs
Virgin Atlantic and Air-India have made up with Virgin now deciding to continue its flights to India. Bookings for its flights began being accepted from today morning. Ever since Virgin had served a notice to A-I six months back, bookings were not being accepted beyond August 12.

On A-I’s part, civil aviation minister Shahnawaz Hussain has decided to start a second (terminator) flight to London. It is learnt that during his recent visit to Britain, Mr Hussain and the British government agreed to the start of a second A-I flight, which will operate every Saturday.

“A final view will be taken depending on the availability of the leased aircraft,” industry sources said. The present ‘terminator’ flight was resumed in July this year.

Virgin Atlantic is still negotiating on its proposed third flight although with smaller aircraft so that the total number of seats on offer remains acceptable to the Indian side. It is obvious that Indian negotiators would like this service to be operated on a code-share with A-I.

“The terms and conditions of the third flight still have to be discussed and will be finalised when the two sides meet again in August”, A-I commercial director VK Verma told FE. On the other hand, Virgin has been insisting on a third flight without a code share.

A delegation from Virgin Atlantic with Berry Humphrey (director international relations) and Willy Boulter (commercial director) met A-I officials on July 26.

They request A-I to keep Virgin’s ‘termination notice’ in abeyance. The airline had served the notice to A-I on February 12 this year citing ‘financial non-viability’ of their existing operations.

The notice was effective after a six-month notice period.

Virgin’s existing flights are in a code-share with A-I. This is as a result of a pact in early 2000, which allowed the British carrier to operate two flights on the India-UK sector.

However, earlier this year Virgin decided that it needed to operate a third flight for its operations to be viable.

Its promoter Richard Branson even said that the airline wants to operate a daily flight from India. Turning down Virgin’s request, Mr Hussain has said that more frequencies are linked to A-I getting additional landing slots (on convenient timings) at London’s Heathrow airport. For several years, British carriers have argued that landing slots are beyond their control, because these are allocated by an independent agency. This argument is not accepted by India.