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UPDATE 1-Virgin Atlantic sees U.S.-UK planes 60-70% full in coming weeks

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(Adds details, background)

LONDON, Nov 22 (Reuters) - The head of Virgin Atlantic said he expected flights on its important transatlantic routes to be 60% to 70% full in the weeks running up to Christmas, and he did not expect COVID to force those borders to close again.

Shai Weiss told the Airlines UK conference that the airline still did not have great visibility on bookings more than three to six months out, but he expected the UK to U.S. route to drive the recovery as large parts of Asia remained highly restricted.

"We will be trading all the way up to Christmas, probably with a 60 to 70% load factor, which is a material improvement," he said.

Virgin Atlantic, founded by billionaire Richard Branson, is 51% owned by Branson's Virgin Group with the balance held by Delta Air Lines.

Virgin Atlantic was forced to raise cash during the pandemic to survive, including a 1.2 billion pound ($1.6 billion) rescue deal. It also axed almost half of its staff to cut costs.

Sky News reported on Saturday that Branson and Delta were in talks about a further capital raise, of around 400 million pounds, after talk of an IPO faded in uncertain market conditions. Weiss declined to comment on Monday. ($1 = 0.7456 pounds) (Reporting by Kate Holton; editing by Paul Sandle)