Virgin Atlantic to deliver more than 43 million items of PPE and medical supplies to the UK

Cargo being loaded into aircraft
Virgin Atlantic
Head shot of Tania Steere.  She is smiling, with long, wavy blonde hair
by Tania Steere
28 April 2020

Virgin Atlantic is set to deliver more than 43 million items of personal protective equipment (PPE) to the UK.

The cargo-only flights have been chartered by the Department of Health and Social Care and the NHS throughout May, June and July. 

Virgin Atlantic was the first British airline to resume flights to China on April 3rd following special dispensation from the CAA and assistance from the British Embassy in China. Since then Virgin Atlantic has operated nine 26-hour round trips between London Heathrow and Shanghai. The flights are manned by seven pilots and four cabin crew who rotate duties and rest time.

Each flight contains on average 16 tonnes of essential items needed to help fight the Covid-19 pandemic in the UK. The flights use both the cargo hold as well as passenger seats and overhead lockers to carry on average 1,400 boxes of essential equipment. 

Since the first charter on April 3rd, which was supported by Virgin Unite and Virgin Group, more than 150 tonnes of medical supplies and PPE have been transported, including:

  • 66 ventilators,

  • More than two million face masks, 

  • 600,000 face shields and visors, 

  • one million disposable gloves, 

  • 38,000 items for eye protection, 

  • 125,000 protective coveralls and isolation gowns 

  • more than 25,000 battery operated or manual ventilators

Image from Virgin Atlantic
Image from Virgin Atlantic

Dominic Kennedy, Managing Director, Virgin Atlantic Cargo, said: “We are so incredibly grateful for all the work our healthcare professionals are doing during this challenging time and we’re pleased we can play our part by bringing crucial medical supplies and PPE in to the UK for the NHS teams working on the front line.   

“Despite a decrease in passengers travelling, demand to transport cargo remains strong, and our teams are working hard keeping global supply chains running and transporting essential supplies around the world. We’re looking forward to continuing to partner with the Department for Health and the NHS, working with them on daily flights from Shanghai to London throughout May, June and July transporting over 1,500 tonnes of supplies that the teams here in the UK urgently need to care for patients.”

Image from Virgin Atlantic
Image from Virgin Atlantic

Heathrow CEO John Holland-Kaye said: “We’re proud to be working closely with Virgin Atlantic to keep the UK’s vital supply lines open during this challenging time. This outbreak has drastically changed our sector and we’re all playing our part by prioritising freight operations which have seen an exponential increase, with cargo only movements up by over 950 per cent in the past week. This focus means that critical medical supplies are getting into this country, ready for use by our frontline NHS workers. 

“After overcoming COVID-19, aviation will be key to kickstarting the UK’s economic recovery. This is why we’re calling for standardised health screening procedures that will help to ensure the safety and peace of mind of our passengers and colleagues as the country looks towards a new normal.”  

The emergence of COVID-19 has led to Virgin Atlantic operating cargo-only flights, a first for the airline since its launch in 1984. Special exemptions from the imposed travel restrictions for pilots and cabin crew – whose health and wellbeing remains our top priority - mean that cargo operations can continue, ensuring the airline can continue to support vital supply chains across the globe.  

Image from Virgin Atlantic
Image from Virgin Atlantic

Virgin Atlantic’s first-ever cargo-only flight, VS698 from London Heathrow for New York JFK, took place on 22nd March 2020

The flights are operated in partnership with the UK Government and Virgin Atlantic. The British Embassy is working with the Department of Health and Social Care to procure medical equipment from China and deliver it to NHS hospitals all over the UK.