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Last Updated: Friday, 3 December, 2004, 15:35 GMT
Virgin wins most Indian flights
Virgin tail fins
India is a growth market for Virgin, BA and BMI
Virgin Atlantic has won the largest share of 21 additional direct flight slots between the UK and India.

The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) awarded Virgin 10 new weekly return flights to and from the two countries.

British Airways (BA), which already operates 19 services between the UK and India, has secured seven of the new slots, while BMI has gained four.

Virgin currently flies three weekly services as part of a code-share with India's flag carrier Air India.

It had asked the CAA for an additional 18 slots, while BMI wanted 13 and BA all 21.

Strong demand

The new direct flights from London to Mumbai (Bombay), Delhi, Bangalore and other Indian cities were so converted because high passenger demand currently outstrips limited existing services.

"Virgin has done well, and you would have expected a regulator to try and increase the variety of offer. It is a classic British compromise: everybody gets a bit, nobody gets what they want," said aviation analyst Chris Avery of JP Morgan.

The new flights to and from the UK and India have been made available following a agreement between the two countries' governments earlier this year.

State-run Air India is expected to win most of the new services on the India side.

'Not enough'

Virgin said it would launch three of its seven new Delhi services immediately, but that it would appeal against the CAA decision to only grant it three weekly flights on the Mumbai route, for which it hoped to compete aggressively with BA.

"This simply isn't enough. BA utterly dominates, carrying 75% of first and business-class passengers flying directly between the UK and India," Virgin boss Richard Branson said in a statement.

BA said in a statement it was disappointed with the decision to grant it only four services on the Chennai (Madras) route and three to Bangalore but stopped short of saying it would appeal.

More UK-to-India routes are expected to be opened up following further talks between the two governments in the next 12 months.

BA carried slightly fewer passengers last month than it did in November 2003, owing to a reduction in the number of its services.

It carried 2,685,000 passengers in November - a drop of 0.2% compared with the same month last year.

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