On December 10 Virgin Atlantic outlined plans to launch a UK domestic flying programme from spring 2013. The airline will be adding 24 domestic flights a day to its existing long-haul network with an investment programme that it says will create more than 150 new jobs in the UK.
Sir Richard Branson’s airline has confirmed that it will take up nine of the 12 daily pairs of Heathrow slots which British Airways (BA) has to give up to ensure that consumers again have an alternative on key routes previously competed by bmi.
Virgin Atlantic says it will focus its operations on flights to and from Scotland and Manchester. From April 2013, the airline will operate six round-trip flights a day between Heathrow and Edinburgh, with three daily round-trip flights between Heathrow and Aberdeen. The airline has also utilised three of its own Heathrow slot-pairs to complement the new Scottish routes with three daily round-trip services between Heathrow and Manchester from March 31, 2013.
Virgin Atlantic Chief Executive, Steve Ridgway commented: “Throughout our history, Virgin Atlantic has successfully fought British Airways all over the world and has offered passengers a compelling alternative through our renowned product and service.
“We will look to replicate that in our short haul flying and challenge the current BA monopoly on these routes which is causing serious consumer harm.
“Virgin Atlantic will offer millions of passengers in Scotland and Manchester connections around the world through our and our partners’ long haul network, with the additional benefit of providing direct services to and from London Heathrow. This is a robust business model that will protect competition to and from Heathrow for the long-term.”
Virgin Atlantic says the schedule of the new flights is timed to maximise connections for passengers travelling onwards from London across its global network. It adds that the timings will also give the most attractive offering to passengers travelling direct between London and the UK regions, with flights spread at key points throughout the day including morning arrivals into Heathrow to give business travellers a full day in the capital and an early morning departure from London to Edinburgh for business visits to the Scottish capital.
This new chapter in the airline’s history will have the airline increase capacity on the routes previously operated by bmi, aiming to fly almost one million passengers per year domestically on four Airbus 320 aircraft. Virgin says that through this direct competition to BA – which currently has a monopoly on all three of these routes – consumers will benefit from added choice: “and Virgin Atlantic’s strong track record of driving down fares on routes on which it competes with BA.”
Sir Richard Branson’s airline says it will provide a bespoke Virgin Atlantic product and service on all of its short haul flights and has signed a letter of intent with Aer Lingus as a wet lease partner to supply the crew and Airbus narrow body aircraft required, which will be fully Virgin branded. Virgin says its decision was taken: “after hard fought competition from two carriers with two excellent business cases being presented to the airline.”
Virgin Atlantic and Aer Lingus already operate an interline agreement and say they will explore opportunities for further commercial cooperation in the future.
Stephen Kavanagh, Aer Lingus Chief Commercial Officer said: “We are very pleased to have reached agreement in principle with Virgin Atlantic to provide the aircraft, maintenance and crew with which they will serve their new domestic operations and look forward to now progressing to contract.”
Virgin Atlantic states its short-haul operation will directly create around 130 flying jobs and 25 new head office jobs to launch this short haul operation and will indirectly: “protect roles in suppliers and other stakeholders including ground handling agents and airport
Virgin Atlantic’s domestic operation will begin with its summer schedule from March 31, 2013, and will operate from London Heathrow Terminal 1. Tickets for the Scottish routes will go on sale from Wednesday December 19 with fares starting from £99 return.