Virgin America: Not this year

Virgin America will likely not start flying this year, as was originally hoped, officials said Monday.

The Burlingame-based, American company started byVirgin Group mogul Richard Branson and now owned mostly by American shareholders planned to start running flights out of a hub at San Francisco International Airport this year.

But Virgin says Continental and other airlines opposing the approval continue to hold up the process with the federal Department of Transportation.

Continental spokesman David Messing has said there are significant foreign control issues raised by the application. Messing said Monday that the company didn’t have comments in response to the expected start date delay, but noted that their stance has not changed.

Seventy-five percent of a company’s shareholders and two thirds of its board of directors must be American for it to be considered an American company. Virgin America spokesman Gareth Edmondson-Jones said his company meets both criteria.

“We’ve obviously experienced some delays, but we’re ready to get going,” Edmonson-Jones said. “We’re hopeful that we can start flying in January.”

In July, the Department of Transportation said the application was complete, meaning the department’s questions had been answered but other parties can comment on the case.

The process typically takes six months from that point, which will put any decision beyond the 2006 target to get up and running, Edmonson-Jones said.

The start-up delays prompted Virgin America to borrow $53 million from the Virgin Group, a minority investor with a 25 percent stake in the company, which will be repaid after the company starts selling tickets.

A number of county officials and local economic development groups have been behind the plan, including the San Mateo County Convention and Visitors Bureau and San Mateo County Economic Development Association, looking forward to the expected economic boost a new airline would bring to the Peninsula.

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