Virgin Atlantic Airways plans to launch a domestic flying program on three routes within the United Kingdom from the spring of 2013.
The airline will add 24 domestic flights a day from London Heathrow to its existing long-haul network. This investment in short-haul routes will create more than 150 new jobs, and see excellent onward connections for travelers flying from the U.S. to Scotland, according to Virgin Atlantic Airways.
Sir Richard Branson’s airline has confirmed it will take up nine of the 12 daily pairs of London Heathrow Airport slots which British Airways was forced to give up to ensure consumers had an alternative on key routes previously flown by BMI, which BA’s parent International Airlines Group purchased from Lufthansa on April 20, 2012.
Virgin Atlantic says it will focus its operations on flights to and from Scotland. From April 2013, the airline will operate six round-trip flights a day between Heathrow and Edinburgh, and three daily round-trip flights between Heathrow and Aberdeen Airport.
The airline will also use three of its existing Heathrow slot pairs to complement the new Scottish routes with three daily round-trip services between Heathrow and Manchester Airport from March 31.
“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,” says Steve Ridgway, Virgin Atlantic Airways’ chief executive. “We will look to replicate that in our short-haul program and challenge the current BA monopoly on these routes, which is causing serious consumer harm.”
Adds Ridgway: “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.”
The schedule of new flights is timed to maximize connections for passengers traveling onwards from London across Virgin Atlantic’s global network.
According to Virgin Atlantic, the flight timings will also be attractive to passengers traveling direct between London and the UK regions, with flights spread at key points throughout the day – including morning arrivals into Heathrow to give business travelers 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 Virgin Atlantic’s history will see the airline increase capacity on the routes previously operated by BMI, flying almost one million passengers per year domestically on four Airbus A320 single-aisle jets.
Through this direct competition to BA – which currently has a monopoly on all three 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, according to Virgin Atlantic.
The airline 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 A320s required, which will be fully Virgin-branded.
Virgin’ Atlantic says it took its wet-lease decision after hard-fought competition from two carriers, both of which presented excellent business cases to Virgin.
Aer Lingus and Virgin Atlantic already operate an interline agreement and will explore opportunities for further commercial cooperation in the future, according to Virgin Atlantic.
“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,” says Stephen Kavanagh, Aer Lingus’ chief commercial officer.
Virgin Atlantic says its short-haul operation will directly create around 130 flying jobs and 25 new head office jobs to launch, and will indirectly protect roles in suppliers and other stakeholders including ground handling agents and airport teams.
After service launch, the 150 new jobs will be made up of cabin crew, pilots, ground staff and office jobs. Flying jobs will be spread across crew bases at Aberdeen, Manchester and London.
Virgin Atlantic’s domestic operation will begin with its summer schedule from March 31 and will operate from London Heathrow Airport’s Terminal 1.
Tickets for the Scottish routes will go on sale from Wednesday, December 19, 2012, with round-trip fares starting from £99 ($159).
In March 2011, BMI withdrew its Glasgow-Heathrow services, leaving the route a monopoly for British Airways. Virgin Atlantic analyzed BA’s fares following BMI’s withdrawal and found that its average fare on the route had increased by 34 per cent.
Virgin Atlantic says it has a demonstrable track record of creating downward pressure on BA fares. Over the last two years Virgin Atlantic has brought new competition to BA between London and Vancouver, Accra and Cancun.
On each occasion BA’s lowest standard fare has fallen by as much as 30 per cent and the number of BA sale fares has increased as a result, according to Virgin Atlantic.