Virgin Atlantic Selects Aer Lingus to Support UK Domestic Operation

UK carrier Virgin Atlantic has confirmed it has selected Irish national carrier Aer Lingus to support its growth into the UK domestic market and will wet-lease four Airbus A320s from the airline to provide flights from Aberdeen, Edinburgh and Manchester to London Heathrow from next year.  Although these aircraft will be crewed by Aer Lingus staff they will be operated in a single all-Economy class configuration under the full Virgin brand including staff uniforms, in-flight service and aircraft livery with an “onboard product and service in keeping with what passengers have come to expect on Virgin’s long-haul routes,” it says.

Virgin Atlantic this week outlined its proposed flying programme for UK domestic operations which will spread to 24 flights a day – twelve daily return flights.  These will comprise six daily flights to Edinburgh, three daily flights to Aberdeen and the previously announced three daily rotations to Manchester.  The flights will operate from Terminal 1 at London Heathrow meaning passengers will have to transfer to Terminal 3 to catch any connecting international flights of the carrier.  

Surprisingly, the schedule suggests that Virgin is currently using only nine of the 12 return remedy slot pairs it was awarded by the European Commission at Heathrow Airport as part of the takeover of bmi British Midland International by British Airways’ parent International Consolidated Airlines Group (IAG).

The domestic operations will commence from March 31, 2012 with the inauguration of the flights to Manchester, which utilise three of its existing Heathrow slot pairs.  The two Scottish services will follow from April 2013 and full schedule information and launch dates are scheduled to be announced ahead of tickets going on sale from December 19, 2012.   

“Throughout our history, Virgin Atlantic has successfully fought British Airways all over the world and has offered passengers a compelling alternative through our renowned product and service,” said Steve Ridgway, Chief Executive Officer, Virgin Atlantic.  “We will look to replicate that in our short haul flying and challenge the current BA monopoly on these routes which is causing serious consumer harm.”

"This is the beginning of an exciting new era in Virgin Atlantic history.  It’s been a long time coming but the dawn of our short-haul service is now just a few months away. We’ve worked hard to produce the sort of operation that consumers have come to expect from us – with customer service and a unique approach to flying forming the key pillars for our new domestic routes,” he added.

Virgin Atlantic says it selected Aer Lingus as its domestic market ahead of an offer from another unannounced carrier.  This is understood to have been Lithuanian charter carrier Avion Express, which has recently been advertising for air crew to support a long term contract for scheduled operations based in London Heathrow on a timescale that coincided with Virgin Atlantic’s own plans.

Virgin Atlantic will find it tough to compete directly with BA in the domestic skies, but it has already shown against all odds that it can succeed following its developments in the long-haul market.  Alongside direct competition from British Airways in all three markets, Virgin Atlantic will also face indirect competition on the two Scottish routes.  On the London - Aberdeen market, BA Cityflyer also offers flights from London City and easyJet from Gatwick and Luton, while in the London – Edinburgh market, BA Cityflyer and CityJet offer flights from London City and easyJet has connections from Gatwick, Luton and Stansted.

According to official UK Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) statistics, 652,250 passengers travelled between London Heathrow and Aberdeen, 1,271,459 between London Heathrow and Edinburgh and 766,906 between London Heathrow and Manchester last year.  In the table below we look at how air passenger demand has changed on these three routes since the turn of the Millennium.

SCHEDULED AIR PASSENGER DEMAND BETWEEN LONDON HEATHROW AND ABERDEEN, EDINBURGH AND MANCHESTER (total passengers; UK CAA)

Year

Aberdeen

Edinburgh

Manchester

Passengers

% Change

Passengers

% Change

Passengers

% Change

2000

516,026

-

1,673,587

-

1,309,732

-

2001

476,933

(-7.6) %

1,576,686

(-5.8) %

1,283,733

(-2.0) %

2002

514,703

7.9 %

1,603,397

1.7 %

1,305,072

1.7 %

2003

507,290

(-1.4) %

1,661,897

3.6 %

1,385,320

6.1 %

2004

623,555

22.9 %

1,696,300

2.1 %

1,401,546

1.2 %

2005

664,018

6.5 %

1,660,261

(-2.1) %

1,265,160

(-9.7) %

2006

673,338

1.4 %

1,495,042

(-10.0) %

1,086,918

(-14.1) %

2007

658,984

(-2.1) %

1,436,598

(-3.9) %

973,044

(-10.5) %

2008

656,034

(-0.4) %

1,318,962

(-8.2) %

910,101

(-6.5) %

2009

641,294

(-2.2) %

1,306,065

(-1.0) %

908,723

(-0.2) %

2010

617,693

(-3.7) %

1,244,793

(-4.7) %

799,264

(-12.0) %

2011

652,520

5.6 %

1,271,459

2.1 %

766,906

(-4.0) %