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Virgin Atlantic yesterday confirmed plans to start daily services to Sydney from December 8, almost a year after founder Richard Branson said he would cross-dress as a Qantas hostess if his airline did not fly here by 2005.
Although the European Commission has yet to ratify the recently signed UK and Hong Kong air services agreement, the Virgin Atlantic announcement came after both governments agreed to bring the alliance into "provisional effect" on December 1.
Under the agreement UK airlines will be given "fifth freedom" rights to fly from Hong Kong to Sydney, while Hong Kong airlines - namely Cathay Pacific - will be given rights to fly from Heathrow to New York.
Virgin Atlantic will effectively tag Sydney on to its existing London-Hong Kong leg. "Based on the letters between the UK and Hong Kong, they decided they had no reason to hold up the deal any longer," Virgin's Asia-Pacific boss, Mackenzie Grant, said.
A spokesman from the UK Department of Transport said: "These arrangements will be provided pending scrutiny by the European Commission."
Posing a serious threat to Qantas's dominance of the business traffic between Sydney and London, Virgin will employ its new "upper class" offering on the route using Airbus 340-600s.
Mr Grant said Sydney would be one of the first airports Virgin's fleet of giant Airbus double-deck 380s would use in late 2007.
Signalling a major boost in capacity and competition on the Cathay Pacific-Qantas-dominated route, Hong Kong's second largest carrier Dragonair also confirmed plans yesterday to start flights from Hong Kong to Sydney in the second half of next year.
With Hong Kong recently granting Qantas "fifth freedom" rights to fly to London, Qantas plans to commence three weekly Sydney to Hong Kong to London flights by the end of the year.
Analysts said Qantas would have extra capacity on the so-called Kangaroo route, when it pulled out of its thrice-weekly service to Paris in October as part of its recently announced code-share agreement with Air France.
Citing Qantas's bid to increase flights to London from 21 to 27 a week and the new Air France code-share agreement, the Centre for Asia Pacific Aviation's Peter Harbison even suggested the Qantas-British Airways joint services agreement could end.
"The prospect of the Qantas-BA love affair coming to an end has been well explored and, like most aviation relationships, the prospect will inevitably become reality one day with unpredictable implications too for the oneworld network," he said in his daily email to clients.
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