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Friday, 30 August, 2002, 05:10 GMT 06:10 UK
Virgin Blue seeks new airspace
Sir Richard Branson
Sir Richard Branson: "Bali's one of my favourite places"
Sir Richard Branson's Virgin Blue is poised to expand its fleet and take on extra international routes, in a sign of the budget carrier's growing prominence within the Virgin empire.


We are very, very close to deciding whether we buy Airbus or Boeing

Sir Richard Branson
The Australia-based airline, which has applied for permission to fly to Hong Kong two years after launching as a domestic airline, is investigating further international expansion, Sir Richard said.

The carrier is also pursuing plans to start flights to New Zealand, with the tropical resort island of Bali a likely future destination.

"Bali's one of my favourite places. I'm sure we'll be applying to fly to Bali at some stage," he said.

The airline is also poised to order extra aircraft, and attempt to build on the 20% share of Australia's domestic passenger market.

"We are very, very close to deciding whether we buy Airbus or Boeing and we'll be committing to about 40 planes, so it's a big order," Sir Richard said.

Listing plans

The expansion would boost sentiment over the airline's prospects at a time when it is being prepared for stock market flotation.

Sir Richard on Friday signalled that flotation was likely in 2003.

While other parts of his Virgin empire have in the past been seen as more likely flotation targets, Virgin Blue's success has placed it in pole position to open a process which observers say could see eight of Sir Richard's firms gain a market listing by 2010.

A listing for Virgin Mobile, the UK's fifth ranking mobile phone firm, was "not for the immediate future", Sir Richard said.

He launched his Virgin Group onto the market in the 1980s but difficult relations with the City prompted him to buy back the firm two years later.

Access dispute

His comments came on a visit to Australia to launch a new domestic route, and take up a dispute with Sydney Airport over Virgin Blue's access to the hub.

The airport's new owners have questioned an agreement to provide terminal spaces.

Sir Richard also restated his confidence in the future of Virgin Atlantic Airways, back in the black after a torrid period following the 11 September attacks.

"We are back in profit for Virgin Atlantic and the capacity has come back very well, I think we're back in the high 70% to low 80% now," he said.

But he added that a return to levels seen before last September "will take a couple of years".

See also:

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