Virgin America set to join U.S. airlines

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ASSOCIATED PRESS

Startup airline Virgin America expects to begin flying next month after U.S. regulators gave the final approvals needed for takeoff.

In separate actions yesterday, the Department of Transportation authorized Virgin America to begin selling tickets while the Federal Aviation Administration certified its jets as safe to fly.

All that’s left now is for Virgin America to release its initial flight schedule. The Burlingame, Calif., airline said an announcement will be made soon so travelers can begin buying tickets.

Virgin America previously has said it will fly from San Francisco International Airport to John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York. The airline also intends to offer service in San Diego, Las Vegas, Los Angeles and Washington Dulles International Airport within the first year of service.

Getting the right to fly proved to be a daunting process for Virgin America because of its ties to British billionaire Richard Branson, who came up with the idea for a new U.S. airline that would offer travelers more comfort at a lower cost than the industry’s long-established carriers.

Mr. Branson’s Virgin Group Ltd. is among Virgin America’s primary financial backers, raising concerns that too much foreign control would be exerted over the U.S. airline.

The Department of Transportation tentatively blocked Virgin America’s application, citing U.S. laws limiting foreign ownership of the nation’s airlines to 25 percent.

After Virgin America made a series of concessions to minimize Mr. Branson’s influence, regulators reversed course and approved the airline’s revised structure in May.

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