Passengers to double, predicts Branson

Virgin Blue's chairman Sir Richard Branson predicted yesterday that domestic passenger numbers would double within three years, as the maintenance of cheap fares encourages rapid growth in air traffic and fuels the need for fleet expansion.

Virgin Blue will purchase up to 40 aircraft for around $3.6 billion within the next three months, either sticking with its current Boeing 737s or adding Airbus A320s. Branson said that he expects the airline to take a 50 per cent market share by 2006. Virgin Blue will also expand its frequency on some routes, with the airline confirming that it regularly has 100% passenger loads on many flights, and not just on the Sydney-Melbourne sector. Perth is one route that “desperately needs more capacity”.

Sir Richard was in Sydney to sign the $260 million partnership deal with Patrick Corporation's Chris Corrigan and to finalise bids for four of Ansett's east coast terminals. There are 15 bidders for the vacant terminals, with Ansett's administrators wanting to finalise the sales by the beginning of May.

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