Virgin Atlantic wants to launch direct London-Australia flights ‘as soon as possible’

Virgin founder Sir Richard Branson has said he wants Virgin Atlantic to start operating direct flights between the UK and Australia.

The British entrepreneur revealed his ambitions to compete with Qantas, which launched the first nonstop service from London to Perth earlier this year, in an interview with Your Money.

He said he wanted to start the route “as soon as possible”.

Qantas broke records when it launched the first nonstop scheduled passenger flight between the two countries in March, taking 17 hours and covering some 9,000 miles.

The flight has proved a huge success for Australia’s flagship carrier; Qantas announced pre-tax profits of A$1.6bn (£905m) for the 2018 financial year in August, a 14 per cent increase on last year. 

Qantas Group CEO Alan Joyce told The Independent: “The customers love it and the seat factor that we’ve had on that service since it started in March is at 92 per cent, with the premium business class at 94 per cent; an amazing performance for a new operation.” 

However, Virgin Atlantic might not be as onboard with the idea as Branson, who is no longer on the executive team but retains a 20 per cent stake in the company.

A spokesperson told The Telegraph: “We don’t have any plans to launch flights to Perth.

”Richard was probably speaking in an aspirational sense.

“Although our current fleet doesn’t have the right configuration for this route, we are always evaluating new destinations for our customers – and Perth is a great city.”

Branson has become better known in recent years for his participation in the next generation of “space race”, which has seen several high profile entrepreneurs, including Tesla-CEO Elon Musk, compete to become the first to launch commercial “flights” into space.

In October 2018 Branson announced that Virgin Galactic is “weeks, not months” away from its first trip.

Sir Richard Branson told CNBC: “We should be in space within weeks, not months. And then we will be in space with myself in months and not years.”

He added that “not too long after” the company would be taking its first passengers out to the stars.

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