TORONTO (Reuters) - Virgin Atlantic Airlines is looking at both Vancouver and Nairobi as potential new routes but is disappointed at the slow progress made with flights to India, the carrier's chairman, Richard Branson, said.
"I would be very surprised if we are not flying to Vancouver withinn three years," he told journalists during the first Virgin flight from London-Gatwick to Toronto on Tuesday.
Branson said he was frustrated by the lack of progress on flights to India, where the carrier has been unable to expand operations as expected following its code share agreement with Air India.
He said the situation was "very stupid, very sad", and it meant there was a loss of business for India, for trade and passengers between India and the UK.
Branson said he had spoken to the Indian deputy prime minister and had also sent him a letter on the subject.
"There is very strong passenger demand from the UK to India...you could fly three 747s a day to both Delhi and Mumbai to meet demand, which is underlined by 40 percent of UK-to-India traffic going through third countries," he said.
Over the last eight years capacity to and from New York (to Britain) has gone up two to three times whilst to India it has remained unchanged, he added.
Branson also said that Kenya was high on his list as a destination and there is "a huge potential in Africa."
The carrier begins flights to Lagos from London on July 16 and already flies to both Johannesburg and Cape Town.
It is also looking at other destinations such as Dubai, Singapore and Bangkok, he added.
Virgin Atlantic is due to take delivery of five Boeing 747-400s this year and eight Airbus A340-600s starting in 2002.
Asked whether the airline might consider acquiring freighters, he said, "We wouldn't rule it out, we're opportunistic," although the freight market has recently weakened more than expected.
A freighter operation to Shanghai could be considered because there is good two way business and ideally this would return to the UK via the Middle East, Virgin director or cargo, John Lloyd said. "But it is not the right time at the moment," he said.
The aircraft could be leased or might be operated as a joint venture "but all options were open at this stage," Lloyd added.
On cargo cooperation with Singapore Airlines, which has a 49-percent stake in Virgin Atlantic, Lloyd said it was taking a bit longer than expected, but there were now more contacts and progress on working together, including in the IT and cargo handling sectors was being made.
Virgin Atlantic business "has three elements-- business and economy (passengers) and freight... if anyone of them fails, we could plunge into huge losses," Branson said.