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Virgin Atlantic wins Heathrow slots

Virgin Atlantic PlaneVirgin Atlantic is set to operate domestic flights between Heathrow Airport and Scotland from the spring after winning an offer for all the remaining airport slots that British Airways had to give up for its acquisition of bmi for £186 million.  This will give Virgin Atlantic a chance to fly in the UK short-haul market with daily flights from Aberdeen Airport and Edinburgh airport for the first time.  These are joining its Manchester Airport service, which has been announced for April already.

In order to win approval for the takeover of bmi, European competition regulators forced International Airlines Group (IAG) to give up 14 pairs of British Airways’ slots at Heathrow Airport.  Virgin was very opposed to the merger, but at least now the airline has some room to expand its own operations and further compete with British Airways.  Two of the slots had already been promised links to Moscow and Cairo, but now they are being released to Virgin as well.

Virgin Atlantic is expecting to launch the new services from late March and an exact timetable is expected within the next two weeks.  The carrier plans to lease an Airbus A320 for the UK flights, which will offer seats for up to 150 passengers.  Aside from these new services to Scotland and the route announced for Manchester, Virgin Atlantic plans to start flying to Nice as well.

Steve Ridgway, the chief executive of Virgin Atlantic, says that they have struggled for the right to operate short-haul services in the UK and give British Airways a strong challenge.  Both carriers have fought for customers around the world for 28 years, which has given British consumers some of the best flying and lowest fares in the world.  Winning these slots at Heathrow Airport is the start of an exciting new era for the history of Virgin Atlantic, and they feel a responsibility to everyone who has backed them in the challenge.  Passengers can anticipate great short-haul flights with them, but they more importantly reap the benefits of the vital, re-injected competition they can provide on these routes.

Businesses and travel agents in Scotland have welcomed the award of the Heathrow slots to Virgin Atlantic, as it means there will be more competition on Scottish flights.  The carrier is aiming to take 40% of British Airways’ passengers on the new routes.  On top of this, the airline will need people to fill new job posts.

Of course, Virgin Atlantic wasn’t the only airline bidding on the Heathrow Airport slots.  Aer Lingus put in an offer but was informed last week that it was ranked second in the bidding.  These services would have given it its first ever domestic route in Britain.  Christoph Mueller, the chief executive of the carrier, said that they would have a hard time growing organically and will consider small asset purchases to help with their expansion.

In other news for Virgin Group, its Virgin Australia subsidiary has expanded its codeshare deal with Singapore Airlines, which will help travellers on the east coast of Australia who are connecting in Singapore.  Under the expanded deal, Virgin will add its code to Singapore Airlines flights from Melbourne, Brisbane and Sydney to Singapore and beyond to Asian, British and other European cities – starting first quarter of next year.  In exchange, Singapore Airlines will add its code to all of Virgin’s 32 domestic destinations from now.

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