Virgin's Richard Branson eyes domestic turf in India

New Delhi: In his inimitable manner, Virgin Atlantic chief, Richard Branson confessed that he has made full use of his presence in UK prime minister Gordon Brown's delegation of British businessmen to lobby New Delhi for permission to operate on domestic air routes.
Virgin started services to India in 2000, and has been eyeing the lucrative domestic sector, where traffic growth so far, has been over 30 per cent, for a very long time. Virgin, which currently operates London-Delhi flights, has plans to induct the A380 super jumbo in another three years in the Indian sector.

Branson said that he has met commerce and industry minister, Kamal Nath, twice on this tour renewing his proposal to enter the domestic aviation sector, which is not open for foreign participation.

"I had dinner with the minister last night... I twisted his arm, (but) I do not know whether I have broken it," he told reporters on the sidelines of prime minister Brown's breakfast meeting here with industry leaders from the UK and India.

Branson also reminded newsmen that he had spent 15 years "lobbying to get international flights to and from India."

He also said that he would be coming back sometime over the next three weeks to make big announcements on his different Indian ventures, including telecom. Without getting into details he said: "Negotiations are at a very advanced stage."

Branson also pointed at Indian carrier, Jet Airways, as the closest competitor for his airline. "Jet Airways, I suspect is the best airline in India and we will do our best to make sure Virgin India is even better."