Britain's second largest airline officially entered the UAE market yesterday when Virgin Atlantic's Airbus A340-600 landed at the Dubai International Airport from London Heathrow. The new flight represents the airline's first Middle East route, and its 26th destination worldwide.

Virgin Atlantic will initially operate four flights a week, but will increase to five flights a week from May 1, with daily flights scheduled after June 1. The Virgin Atlantic route will be flown with Airbus A340-600 and A340-300 aircraft fitted with its award-winning upper class suites.

Sir Richard Branson, Chairman of Virgin Atlantic, expressed promise in the new route: Dubai is a key business and leisure destination for Virgin Atlantic as it is the second biggest long-haul route out of London, while London is the most-popular long-haul route out of the UAE. We are confident that we can make big in-roads into this market targeting 10 % market share in our first year of operation.

The new flights will not significantly alter the current flight landscape. Even with daily flights starting from June, Virgin Atlantic will be a distant competitor for Emirates, Dubai's incumbent operator, which operates 80 flights to London a week. However, rather than competing directly with Emirates for the same customers, Virgin Atlantic is focusing on capturing as much of the growing market as possible.

Mr. Marwan bin Beyat, Director General of Dubai's Department of Tourism, affirms that travel growth is forthcoming: The new service will bring more visitors to explore the Arabian hospitality and experience all that has made Dubai a sought-after year-round destination. The growth potential is immense.

However, there is no question that Virgin Atlantic leadership feels that the right strategic move is being made. On the synergy of a Virgin Atlantic-Dubai partnership, Sir Branson stated, I have always considered that Dubai and Virgin Atlantic are very similar in their outlook - both looking to anticipate the future and prepare for it but also always looking at new and exciting ways of doing things.