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Virgin Atlantic India manager David Hodges.
Virgin Atlantic India manager David Hodges.

Jet grounding behind shift in India growth plans, says Virgin Atlantic

  • From 27 October, Virgin Atlantic is beginning a daily London-Mumbai flight, a route on which Jet operated three flights daily
  • David Hodges says Virgin Atlantic is looking at forging new partnerships with Indian airlines to receive passengers from smaller Indian cities and towns

NEW DELHI : The grounding of codeshare partner Jet Airways (India) Ltd prompted Virgin Atlantic to launch its own London-Mumbai service to boost growth, an executive at the British airline said. Code-sharing allows an airline to book its passengers on partner carriers and provide seamless travel to destinations where it has no presence.

“We had a codeshare partnership with Jet Airways, and we planned to grow that," Virgin Atlantic India manager David Hodges said, adding, “Unfortunately, the grounding of Jet Airways changed our growth plans."

Virgin Atlantic is beginning a daily London-Mumbai flight from 27 October, entering the space vacated by Jet Airways, which operated three daily flights on this high-demand sector. Jet Airways also flew a daily flight between Mumbai and Manchester.

“There was a lot of capacity (between Mumbai and London/Manchester). We were looking to increase our presence in the partnership with Jet Airways and probably fly one Virgin Airways flight between England and India (one of the flights operated by Jet Airways)," Hodges said.

“We need to be quick and nimble (after Jet’s grounding). So, we decided to start our own services between London and Mumbai," he added. Virgin Atlantic already has a daily flight between London and New Delhi.

Jet Airways suspended operations in April after a severe cash crunch. A consortium of 26 banks led by the State Bank of India (SBI) has approached the National Company Law Tribunal (NCLT) to recover the airline’s dues of more than 8,500 crore.

Jet Airways had run up a loss of more than 13,000 crore over the past few years. Its total liabilities amount to more than 15,000 crore. The lenders have been trying to sell the beleaguered airline as a going concern, but without much success.

Hodges said Virgin Atlantic is looking at forging new partnerships with Indian airlines to receive passengers from smaller Indian cities and towns. The airline, which already has an interline partnership with Vistara, is looking to forge more such partnerships or codeshare agreements with other Indian airlines. “Now, the plan is how we grow in India. Having a codeshare with Vistara is definitely an option for us," Hodges said. “Interline with Vistara has given us great connections from Mumbai and New Delhi. It’s, however, not very simple. Lots of commercial considerations and decisions will have to be made for this (codeshare) alliance."

An interline agreement is an agreement between two or more airlines to handle passengers when their itinerary involves travelling on multiple airlines. Such agreements allow passengers to change flights to a partner airline without having to go through the check-in process again.

Interline agreements differ from codeshare agreements, which refers to numbering a flight with the airline’s code even though the flight is operated by another airline.

In future, Virgin Atlantic may operate between Indian cities other than New Delhi and Mumbai, as it also looks to tap the traffic to England and Europe from other Indian metropolitan cities.

“I have spoken to a number of Indian airports, and this is an interesting opportunity. There are also other high-growth cities across South and North India," Hodges said. “Bangalore is the next natural city we want to fly from in future, and one that we are currently not flying from."

Virgin Atlantic will fly its Boeing 787-9 (Dreamliner) planes between London and Mumbai. It currently operates Airbus 330s on its London-Delhi route.

The airline hopes to also provide onward connections to destinations in Europe, South America, North America and South Africa, from London for its Indian passengers.

“Ultimately, we want to be able to compete with bigger airlines like British Airways in terms of network and network size," Hodges added.

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