Virgin America Appeals to Discount U.S. Fares

The air carrier Virgin America, a subsidiary of Richard Branson's UK-based business empire, wants to offer discount fares in the U.S. The company is appealing a move by the Department of Transportation to block Virgin America's plan.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

A new airline encounters turbulence as it tries to enter the U.S. market.

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MONTAGNE: Virgin America makes another attempt at takeoff today, after waiting more than a year for approval from U.S. transportation regulators. NPR's Jessica Smith has more.

JESSICA SMITH: Virgin America has nine planes on tarmacs around the country, but they're stuck there. U.S. transportation officials - lobbied by major U.S. airlines, including Delta and Continental - have rejected Virgin America's application to start offering discount flights in the U.S. market because of its links to the UK-based Virgin Group.

U.S. officials say Virgin America isn't, quote, "actually controlled by U.S. citizens." They've ordered the airline to revise its ownership structure to meet U.S. rules that limit non-U.S. citizens to a 25 percent stake and one-third aboard in management.

Today, Virgin America - which is based in San Francisco and headed by a former president of Delta - is filing its response. A company spokesman says the airline hopes to start ticketing passengers this spring.

Jessica Smith, NPR News.

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