Virgin Atlantic has announced some extensive expansion plans which would see it enter the European market and relaunch domestic services following a brief hiatus when it shut down its short-haul brand and transitioned to an only-long haul business model.
Subject to the obtainment of slots at London Heathrow and the airport’s expansion, the new plans will strengthen Virgin Atlantic’s position as a leading British carrier.
Virgin Atlantic plans to add 89 new destinations to its route map comprising 35 new international destinations, 37 European and finally 12 domestic. The new move marks a change in business model for Virgin Atlantic; the carrier is now looking to become the second flag carrier in England and will compete directly against British Airways on most of its new services.
In terms of new international destinations, Virgin Atlantic will begin flights to Addis Ababa, Austin, Beijing, Bogota, Buenos Aires, Cape Town, Kunming, Mexico City, Singapore, Sydney and Tokyo.
Virgin Atlantic will be launching select international services in 2020 and will launch the remainder of new routes subject to London Heathrow’s expansion and the allocation of slots.
For this reason, Virgin Atlantic’s newly revealed European and domestic services have not got a set launch date.
The new announcement sees the carrier enter the European market, a sector that is already heavily saturated. The following is a list of the destinations the carrier plans to serve from its London Heathrow base, dependent on the latter's expansion: Brussels, Amsterdam, Luxembourg, Paris, Zurich, Geneva, Nice, Lyon, Frankfurt, Cologne, Gothenburg, Copenhagen, Dusseldorf, Lisbon, Madrid, Toulouse, Prague, Rome, Istanbul, Moscow, Rotterdam, Oslo, Stockholm, Helsinki, Hamburg, Barcelona, Basel, Warsaw, Stuttgart, Munich, Vienna and Budapest.
Virgin Atlantic will also be returning to the domestic market in the United Kingdom with flights to Manchester, Newcastle, Edinburgh, Aberdeen, Belfast, Glasgow, Inverness, Liverpool, Dublin and Cork, Newquay, Jersey, Guernsey and Exeter.
Virgin Atlantic previously operated domestic services with a fleet of leased Airbus A320s from Aer Lingus. The loss-making airline was shut down in 2015.
The new move will allow Virgin Atlantic to increase its overall passengers load on its long haul flights, as the short haul connections from Europe and the UK would likely be timed to offer passengers the option to connect. Virgin Atlantic is one of very few airlines that fly long haul without a short-haul, feeder network. This announcement signifies a possible change, with Virgin Atlantic catching on to industry trends.
Shai Weiss, CEO of Virgin Atlantic said: “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. This would lower fares and give real choice to passengers, as well giving Britain a real opportunity to boost its trade and investment links around the world. Changing the way take-off and landing slots are allocated for this unique and vital increase in capacity at the nation’s hub airport will create the right conditions for competition and innovation to thrive.”
In terms of aircraft, nothing has been confirmed. However, it is likely that we will see a new aircraft order from Virgin Atlantic in the near future – once again, dependent on the allocation of slots. It’s a tough market for Virgin Atlantic, but they believe that their product is a lot better than their competition – namely British Airways. Virgin Atlantic say that the International Airlines Group (that owns the likes of British Airways, Aer Lingus and Iberia among others) dominate Heathrow. As a result, IAG has a monopoly on 77 routes. If it is allocated the necessary amount of slots, Virgin Atlantic says it will compete on 25 of those monopoly routes.
In a press release, Virgin Atlantic said that its new European and domestic plans were dependent on the government; the latter needs to approve a reform in the way Heathrow slots are allocated to allow for a second flag carrier - that being, Virgin Atlantic.
It’s an exciting announcement nevertheless and it will be interesting to see how this all plays out.