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Virgin Atlantic eyes UK-U.S. reopening after 2020 loss

LONDON, April 30 (Reuters) - Britain-based airline Virgin Atlantic said it wanted UK-U.S. travel to reopen on May 17, after reporting a 659 million pound ($917 million) pretax loss for 2020, highlighting the toll taken by the pandemic.

Virgin said that passenger numbers dropped 80% last year compared to 2019 after COVID-19 brought many planes to a standstill.

Like most airlines, it is keen to return to flying at scale but there are concerns about when that will happen. Britain has said that May 17 is the earliest date travel can restart but it has not yet said which countries people can go to.

Transatlantic routes formerly accounted for some 80% of Virgin’s revenue, and the airline is keen to see the U.S. open.

“With world leading vaccination programmes in both the UK and US, and evidence to support safe reopening through testing, there is a clear opportunity to open up travel and no reason to delay beyond May 17,” Virgin’s chief executive Shai Weiss said.

Virgin is 51% owned by Richard Branson’s Virgin Group and 49% by the U.S.’s Delta Air Lines Inc.

For its last financial year, it said revenue came in at 868 million pounds, down 70% on 2019, with an increase in demand for cargo the only bright spot in a year of passenger restrictions.

Virgin Atlantic cut costs last year, shedding 41% of its workforce and retiring some older aircraft early.

$1 = 0.7185 pounds Reporting by Sarah Young, Editing by Paul Sandle

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