Branson's US budget airline plans to fly up to Canada

Virgin America, the low-cost airline set up in the US by Sir Richard Branson, has unveiled ambitious plans for expansion after financial disappointments and wrangling over its ownership structure stymied its first two years in operation.

The company, which is based in San Francisco, will buy at least another nine Airbus A320 aircraft in the next year and has applied for permission to start flying north of the border to Canada. It is adding Orlando, Florida, as a destination immediately.

David Cush, the chief executive, said the airline had lost a year of potential growth because of its legal wrangling with the US Department of Transportation, which investigated a string of objections from rival carriers in the cutthroat budget airline market.

Virgin America was first cleared for take-off in 2007 but high fuel prices and then the recession pulled it off-course. Although the airline uses Sir Richard's Virgin brand, he has been forced to take a back seat throughout its development because US rules ban foreign-owned airlines from operating in the country.

The entrepreneur's Virgin Group, which controls the international carrier Virgin Atlantic, has a 49 per cent stake in Virgin America and only 25 per cent of the voting stock.