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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."
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.
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