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Virgin America inches closer to 2006 launch

Startup carrier Virgin America, the latest venture for "rebel billionaire" Richard Branson, inched one step closer to a 2006 launch this week by filing its application to operate with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). While the airline has yet to officially announce its planned launch date, indications from CEO Fred Reid point to a 2006 target.

Virgin America will initially serve the competitive San Francisco/New York route. According to a story by Roger Wu in yesterday's USA Today, the airline plans to operate 17 Airbus single-aisle planes, A-319s, and A-320s in its first year of operation.

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The airline still needs to clear at least two regulatory hurdles before it can begin operations: the aforementioned filing with the FAA, and a business-plan review by the U.S. Department of Transportation. Virgin America's initial funding is reported at more than $170 million, making it the most-expensive startup ever for a U.S. airline.

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