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Branson's Virgin eyes home airline dream

business Updated: Nov 19, 2007 21:32 IST
Samiran Saha
Samiran Saha
Hindustan Times
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Richard Branson, founder and chairman of UK's Virgin group said on Monday that he was ready to enter India's telecom sector, having found an as-yet-undisclosed partner, and added that he would also want to operate in India’s domestic airspace if the sector is ever opened up for foreign players.

"We have a (telecom) partner now, and I will reveal all in two months' time," Branson told reporters at a conference to mark the first anniversary of Virgin Radio's tie-up with HT Media Ltd, which owns the Fever 104 FM station.

<b1>Branson did not disclose who his telecom partner was, but a source in Tata Teleservices said the billionaire would be a brand consultant for the Indian company, raising prospects of a deeper alliance.

India is world's fastest growing telecom market, and the government has received 575 applications from 46 domestic and foreign firms to launch mobile services in some or all of the 23 zones that make up the country's telecom area. Current rules restrict foreign holdings in telecom service firms to 74 per cent.

Regarding his plans to operate his airline in the Indian domestic sector, Branson said “I would love to fly in the domestic sector but it is protected. If the sector is ever opened up it will be truly competitive,” Branson said.

The flamboyant entrepreneur is optimistic about India opening up its domestic sector for foreign airlines some day soon. Branson said Virgin Atlantic would be ready to compete with Jet Airways and Kingfisher Airlines the day India's domestic sector is opened up for foreign players. “I am optimistic India would open up its domestic sector for foreign airlines keeping in mind the interest Indian consumers.”

India does not allow any foreign airline to operate in the domestic sector neither does it allow foreign airlines to pick up stake in its domestic carriers. Branson said his airline has ordered six superjumbo Airbus A-380s in line with Virgin Atlantic’s fleet expansion plans. The aircraft are expected in mid 2009.

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