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Virgin Atlantic Airways Ltd. and All Nippon Airways Co. reached a code-sharing agreement Tuesday starting in August on flights between Tokyo and London.

The agreement marked the 20th anniversary of Virgin Atlantic flying the Tokyo-London route.

“This will bring competition on the route,” Virgin Atlantic President Richard Branson said at a news conference at the British Embassy in Tokyo.

“Both airlines will now be able to offer a double frequency on the route, which brings greater flexibility to travelers, more choices in schedules, better flight connections.”

Each airline currently operates one flight a day between Britain’s Heathrow and Narita.

Via code-sharing, under which a flight can have multiple airline designations, Virgin Atlantic and ANA can each effectively offer two planes per day with passengers using their chosen carrier’s respective boarding passes.

While noting that 2009 is “likely to be the worst year in the history of aviation” amid the global economic slump, Branson expressed hope that Virgin is prepared to face this and continue making its London-Tokyo route profitable.

As part of its future expansion strategy, Branson said Virgin is “seriously considering” opening flights between Japan and Australia.

He emphasized the importance of fair competition among airlines and reiterated his opposition to a plan to integrate British Airways and American Airlines that would monopolize the world’s airline market and “damage small airlines like Virgin Atlantic.”

Virgin launched its London-Tokyo flights in May 1989 and has since carried about 3 million passengers. It has been in partnership with ANA since June 2003, enabling their respective frequent fliers to accumulate and redeem mileage on each other’s flights.

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