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DOT: Virgin America might be American enough

The process immigrants must go through to get U.S. citizenship can be long and convoluted. Apparently, if you're an international airline, the procedures can be just as difficult.

Virgin America, a proposed U.S.-based spin off of Briton Richard Branson's Virgin Group, made progress today in its bid to begin operations. The Department of Transportation (DOT) tentatively found that the airline was a U.S. Citizen, a legal requirement for an airline to base its operations in the U.S.

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The airline has faced substantial opposition from some major U.S. airlines and the Air Lines Pilots Association (ALPA). These groups have attempted to keep Virgin America grounded, using the somewhat sham argument that the carrier was too much under the control of international parties, a violation of U.S. law. More likely, the major objectors are threatened by the prospect of a new competitor that promises extras like free satellite TVs, self-service mini-bars, and wireless access on long-haul routes.

As with other forums within the U.S., calling your competition un-American seems to be a successful defensive move. The complainers were successful in convincing the DOT not to approve Virgin America's plans until now. After being rebuffed by the DOT in December, Virgin America made some substantial changes, including reducing the number of Virgin Group associates on its board and firing CEO Fred Reed, who was viewed as being too beholden to foreign interests.

The DOT, however, said it could not fully approve Virgin America's application until it makes additional changes that will further delineate it from the Virgin Group. Virgin America has 21 days to respond. If allowed to fly, the airline will begin with flights between San Francisco and New York's JFK, and then add up to 10 cities within its first year including Las Vegas, Los Angeles, San Diego, and Washington (Dulles). Other cities are still under consideration.

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