Virgin America launches California-Florida service in November


Virgin America Inc. will start service to the Sunshine State.

Virgin America said Tuesday it will serve Fort Lauderdale, Fla., with daily non-stop flights from San Francisco and Los Angeles starting Nov. 18.

Fort Lauderdale will be the airline’s 10th destination nationwide. The Burlingame-based airline has several bicoastal routes as well as West Coast routes.

“The south Florida market has always been at the top of our list,” said Virgin America CEO David Cush. “It is a world-class destination and an important tourism and business travel market that, until today, was served by little or no non-stop competition from the West Coast.”

This year is shaping up as a pivotal one for the young company started in 2007. The U.S. Department of Transportation is reviewing Virgin America’s ownership amid reports that majority U.S. shareholders Cyrus Capital Partners LP and Black Canyon Capital LLC sold stakes to London-based Virgin Group Ltd., the holding company owned by British billionaire Richard Branson.

U.S. law prohibits non-U.S. citizens from owning more than 25 percent of an airline. Alaska Air Group Inc. (NYSE: ALK) and others have pressed Virgin America for more details of its ownership.

But a pending deal may put to rest questions of whether the airline meets U.S. “citizenship” requirements. Cush said earlier this year that he expects to add at least one more U.S.-based investor this year. He did not say who may join, how much money will be committed or terms of the deal.

Cush also said he expects Virgin America to have an operating profit in 2010, three years after its first flight.