Virgin Atlantic is set to challenge the dominance of IAG, owners of British Airways, at London Heathrow. The airline has revealed plans to 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 Virgin Atlantic’s flying programme could grow to deliver significant increase in choice for customers – but only if the UK government reforms the way new Heathrow slots are allocated.
The plans include a huge increase of Virgin Atlantic’s current network, including flights to exciting destinations such as Kolkata, Jakarta and Panama City, where passengers aren’t currently able to fly non-stop.
IAG currently controls more than half of the total capacity at Heathrow. A report published last week found that one in four passengers flying from the airport – 18.5 million people – have no choice but to book with that airline group. According to the report, these passengers may be paying up to 10 per cent more in air fares as a result.
In total, Virgin Atlantic plans to serve 103 domestic, European and long haul destinations – up from just 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, Tokyo and Santiago.
The government’s Aviation Strategy green paper has set an objective to facilitate competition between airlines through the allocation of slots at Heathrow. This will benefit consumers by giving them more choice and lower fares. They also want to improve domestic connectivity and connectivity to international destinations that are currently underserved or unserved. Virgin Atlantic’s route network plans would enable the government to meet all these objectives by bringing new competition across multiple domestic, European and global routes – as well as opening up brand new destinations.
Virgin Atlantic warns that the new take-off and landing slots must be allocated in a way that allows airlines 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 businesses can benefit from two flag carriers competing hard for their custom.
IAG holds more than 55 per cent of all take-off and landing slots at Heathrow – with no other airline holding more than five per cent of the remaining slots. Along with its joint venture partners, IAG operates 77 monopoly routes, which forces customers to fly on their planes as no rival direct services exist. Virgin Atlantic intends to compete on 26 routes where there is an IAG monopoly, including Accra in Ghana, Austin in the USA and Bogota in Colombia.
“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 of thousands of travellers,” Shai Weiss, CEO of Virgin Atlantic, said. “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.”
2019 has been a year of significant growth for Virgin Atlantic, which includes the announcement of three new routes from Heathrow: Tel Aviv, Mumbai and São Paulo. It also formed part of the Connect Airways consortium that recently acquired Flybe and will launch its expanded joint venture with Air France, KLM and Delta by the end of the year. Visit Virgin Atlantic to find out more.