Virgin Atlantic eyes Sydney, Auckland, Singapore in expansion plan

Virgin wants a bigger slice of the Heathrow pie, and promises big things in return...

By David Flynn, September 18 2019
Virgin Atlantic eyes Sydney, Auckland, Singapore in expansion plan

Virgin Atlantic says it would recommence flights to Sydney, while also adding Auckland, Singapore and Tokyo to its network, as part of a bold expansion plan which hinges on adding a third runway to London's Heathrow Airport.

However, the issue is less about congestion and more about British Airways' dominance of the airport's limited capacity: according to Virgin, BA's parent company International Airline Group holds more than 55% of all of takeoff and landing rights at Heathrow, with the remaining 45% spread thinly across all other airlines.

Opening a third runway and skewing the traffic share towards those other carriers would light the fuse on a dramatic growth phase for Virgin Atlantic, says CEO Shai Weiss.

"Heathrow has been dominated by one airline group for far too long," Weiss asserts. "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."

Red dots indicate Virgin's current destinations – all the rest are on its wishlist...
Red dots indicate Virgin's current destinations – all the rest are on its wishlist...

While a third runway for Heathrow might not open until 2026 Weiss has already earmarked 84 new destinations across Europe, the Americas and the Asia-Pacific region, compared to just 19 destinations on today's network map.

While most are within the airline's reach using its current fleet of Boeing 787 Dreamliners, Airbus A350s and Airbus A330s, some – most notably Sydney and Auckland – lie outside the range of any current aircraft on the basis of being a non-stop flight from London, although Hong Kong or Singapore could serve as a conventional stopover point.

Virgin previously flew from London to Sydney via Hong Kong but shuttered the route in May 2014, citing "increasing costs and a challenging economic environment."

The airline at the time relied on a gas-guzzling four-engine Airbus A340, although it is now shifting towards more efficient twin-engine aircraft including the Airbus A350-1000, which this month made its debut between London and New York.


David Flynn is the Editor-in-Chief of Executive Traveller and a bit of a travel tragic with a weakness for good coffee, shopping and lychee martinis.

Virgin Australia - Velocity Rewards

08 May 2014

Total posts 48

Not ignoring the fact that LHR's 3rd runway would be many years away, didn't Virgin Atlantic just tell the ACCC it had no intentions of re-commencing flights to Australia?

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

09 May 2011

Total posts 362

Auckland seems an odd choice

Air New Zealand - Airpoints

21 Jan 2016

Total posts 193

Not really. Virgin Atlantic already has co-share arrangements with Air NZ, so flying to Auckland would give Virgin Atlantic access to Air NZ South Pacific services.

Virgin Australia - Velocity Rewards

26 Nov 2017

Total posts 16

There is no such thing as bad press! Seriously though, I had no idea of BA's dominance over the LHR slots.

20 Oct 2011

Total posts 77

I call bull on most of those. Sydney and Auckland would be continuations of existing flights (ie HKG) so would not require another Heathrow slot.

Most of the rest is highly aspirational. Like me picking out the colour of my 4th Tesla, assuming I'll win a lottery.

22 Jan 2018

Total posts 99

Sounds like a brainstorming session that went public, and the media blows it out of proportion. This airline has hardly delivered results as the uk's 7th largest. Do they really think they'll become the 2nd largest, and deliver on it?!! Even the choice of destinations was funny - Kolkotta?! Lol even air India ended European flights from there years ago.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

21 Mar 2017

Total posts 37

This is stupid. They cancelled Vancouver, Tokyo, Sydney, Nairobi, Moscow all in recent history over not being able to fill planes and now all of a sudden a third runway would magically fill their aircraft? Wtf?

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