Thursday, 19 September 2019

More choice......Virgin unveils plans for Heathrow airport expansion


Virgin Atlantic has released details of its planned long haul and new short-haul route network, as it seeks to rapidly expand at London Heathrow.

A possible future Virgin Atlantic route map shows the intention for the carrier to serve up to 84 new destinations in the UK, Europe, and across the globe - when the third runway is complete.

Virgin Atlantic wants to challenge IAG’s dominance at London Heathrow according to new plans released this week.  The airline that is majority-owned by the US mega-carrier Delta said it will significantly increase its long haul route network and launch a new comprehensive network of domestic and European routes when the airport expands. 

The new route maps illustrate how the airline’s flying programme could grow to deliver real competition to British Airways but only, it says "if the Government reforms the way new Heathrow slots are allocated".


The plans represent a fourfold increase on Virgin Atlantic’s current international network and includes destinations such as Kolkata (India), Jakarta (Indonesia) and Panama City (Panama). 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
35 are global, including  Buenos Aires, Jakarta and Kunming 
Virgin Atlantic warns that the new take-off and landing slots must be allocated in a way that enables the development of a second flag carrier with the necessary scale to compete effectively with IAG. 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.

IAG currently dominates Heathrow Airport, it is after all the home base of British Airways and controls more than half of the total capacity, which is a lot, but not as much as Delta controls at its home bases.  According to Virgin, a new report published last week found one in four passengers flying from the airport – 18.5million people – have no choice but to fly with that airline group.  

As things currently stand, IAG holds more than 55% of all the take-off and landing slots at Heathrow, with no other airline holding more than 5% of the remaining slots. IAG and its joint venture partners operate 77 monopoly routes, which forces customers to fly on their planes as no rival direct services exist. Virgin Atlantic intends to compete on 25 routes where there is an IAG monopoly. 

Yet Delta, Virgin and its joint venture partners KLM and Air France will also operate a large number of monopoly routes and are seeking to completely dominate the transatlantic market with fares higher than on other routes.  

Shai Weiss, CEO Virgin Atlantic, commented: “Never has the need for effective competition and choice at Heathrow Airport been more evident than during this summer of disruption, which has brought misery for tens thousands of travellers.  Britain, and those who travel to it, deserve better than this.  Air passengers need a choice and Virgin Atlantic is ready to deliver when Heathrow expands.

“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.”

If these plans come to fruition, it would be the third attempt for Virgin to operate a short-haul European airline, previously tries included Virgin Sun and Little Red.  





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