If Virgin America succeeds in starting operations this summer, as planned, it would add a major new player in the market for flights between the East Coast and West Coast, potentially pushing fares down and offering travelers more choices.
While good for consumers, that could hurt other airlines, which have been enjoying rising fares because of a big reduction in the domestic industry’s fleet since 2001. Indeed, other major carriers — including American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, Continental Airlines, United Airlines and US Airways — had filed objections with regulators to Virgin America’s plans.
Also yesterday, Virgin Atlantic Airways, Mr. Branson’s successful trans-Atlantic carrier, said that it might invest as much as £100 million on new routes over the next two years if the European Union and the United States ratify an agreement to open trans-Atlantic air travel to increased competition.
The plan by Virgin Atlantic, which is Britain’s second-largest airline after British Airways, appeared to be a tacit admission that London’s intense lobbying effort to block a proposed “open skies” pact had failed.
Paul Charles, a Virgin Atlantic spokesman, said the carrier was “intensely” studying plans to add daily flights to New York from several major European cities, including Paris, Frankfurt, Milan, Amsterdam and Zurich.
If ratified by the 27 European Union member states and Congress, the open skies accord would allow any European or American airline to fly any route between any city in Europe and any city in the United States. Currently, European carriers may fly to United States destinations only from their home countries.