Virgin Atlantic has revealed its intention to expand its network by more than 80 destinations once London Heathrow’s third runway is operational. The proposal includes the potential return of Virgin Atlantic services to Sydney that were shelved in 2014, and the launch of flights to Auckland.
Sir Richard Branson’s airline said it plans to challenge the International Airlines Group (British Airways, Iberia, Aer Lingus) and become Britain’s “second flag carrier”, depending on slot allocation at the expanded Heathrow. The third runway is forecast to be completed by 2026.
Virgin Atlantic’s vision will see a fourfold expansion of its long-haul route network and a new “comprehensive network of domestic and European routes”. Flagged new destinations include Kolkata, Jakarta and Panama City.
In total, Virgin Atlantic plans to serve 103 domestic, European and long-haul destinations, up from 19 long-haul destinations in 2020. Of the 84 new destinations planned, 12 are domestic, including Belfast, Glasgow and Manchester; 37 are European, including Barcelona, Dublin and Madrid; and 35 are global, including Buenos Aires and Kunming.
The proposal meets the UK Government’s Aviation Strategy Green Paper that aims to facilitate effective competition between airlines, providing more choice and lower fares to customers. The paper also aspires to improve connectivity to underserved or unserved international routes.
“Ministers are being urged to grasp this once in a generation opportunity to shake up the Heathrow market so that British passengers and business can benefit from two flag carriers competing hard for their custom,” Virgin Atlantic said.
Should slot reforms be achieved, Virgin Atlantic said it would compete against IAG on 25 routes from London Heathrow, such as Accra, Austin, Basel, Budapest, Cape Town, Cork, Dublin, Helsinki, Luxembourg, Lyon, Nice, San Diego, Toulouse, Prague and more.
Citing the fiasco experience at Britain the past summer due to strikes, Virgin Atlantic CEO Shai Weiss said “never has the need for effective competition and choice at Heathrow Airport been more evident”.
“Heathrow has been dominated by one airline group for far too long. The third runway is a once in a lifetime opportunity to change the status quo and create a second flag carrier,” Weiss concluded.
Lead image: Virgin Atlantic at Sydney Airport in October 2013 © Victor Pody / Planespotters.net