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Virgin Atlantic will begin flights to Scotland's financial capital Edinburgh and key North Sea resources hub Aberdeen from London Heathrow from March next year.
The UK regulator awarded Virgin all twelve of the competition-boosting landing slots up for grabs at Heathrow, following the merger of British Airways and BMI earlier this year.
The airline intends to release its timetable for the new London-Scotland routes within the next fortnight.
The announcement, from outgoing CEO Steve Ridgway, confirms the news broken by Australian Business Traveller in May this year -- leaving European flights as the only routes Ridgway specifically mentioned earlier this year that haven't yet been formally proposed to UK regulators.
"Passengers can look forward to a great short-haul service with us, but most importantly reap the benefits from the re-injection of vital competition we can provide," Virgin Atlantic's Ridgway insisted.
Virgin Atlantic is also expected to join one of the global airline alliances –- either Star Alliance or SkyTeam -- early next year.
Previously | Virgin Atlantic will launch domestic flights between London Heathrow and Manchester from March 2013 as the Branson-backed airline makes good on its promise to take on British Airways on their home turf.
"Flying between Heathrow and Manchester is just the start for Virgin Atlantic's new short haul operation," said Virgin Atlantic CEO Steve Ridgway. "Our new service will provide strong competition to omnipresent BA; keep fares low and give consumers a genuine choice of airline to fly to Heathrow and beyond.”
Virgin will make its domestic UK debut with three daily flights between London Heathrow and Manchester beginning March 31st.
Earlier this year, Ridgway revealed to Australian Business Traveller that Virgin Atlantic would chase all the Heathrow arrival and departure slots formerly used by BMI before its take-over by British Airways – see our original story below for full details.
Originally reported in May | Virgin Atlantic aims to start its own flights to Europe, Middle East and Russia from London's Heathrow airport, as well as domestic services within the UK, to replace flights from previous partner BMI which was bought by British Airways' parent company IAG earlier this year.
The ability to fly the new routes will come from 'remedy slots' at Heathrow. Those are departure timetable positions available to Virgin Atlantic as part of the competition regulator's deal to approve the BMI sale to BA, airline CEO Steve Ridgway explains.
"We will go after the woefully inadequate twelve pairs of remedy slots," Ridgway told Australian Business Traveller.
"We need to fly that to provide competition, and we need to fly that to provide the [passengers connecting to long-distance flights] for ourselves."
This all hinges on Virgin winning those slots, of course. In a follow-up interview with Virgin Atlantic, an airline spokesperson stressed that this was not a fait accompli.
“We are taking the time to understand every aspect of the decision to allow the deal between BA and bmi and are reviewing the available remedy options” the spokesperson said.
“We have consistently expressed an interest in flying these routes to keeping competition alive and to preserve consumer choice, and we remain committed to that."
Virgin Atlantic's monopoly-busting routes?
In terms of routes, Ridgway rolls off a few key business traveller destinations, especially for the resources industry: "At the moment, they are to remedy competition on the routes where competition has been impacted and BA has become a monopoly. It's Aberdeen, Edinburgh, places like that."
And further afield too: "Some into Europe and what you might call mid-haul -- out into Saudi Arabia, Russia and so on. As a UK carrier and an EU carrier, we have the designation for all those routes, because some of them are bilaterally constrained [by regulators]."
It's not just the smaller single-aisle planes that will use those Heathrow slots, though: more of the A330s with the new Upper Class Dream Suite will be heading into service from London.
"The rest of this year, we have five or six deliveries of these [Airbus A330s], which the seat companies are busy making seats for. Then as soon as [the two A330s on lease to China Airlines] come back early next year they'll be retrofitted into this three-class configuration and then put into mainline on Heathrow," Ridgway says.
"They'll do India, Middle East, some Africa, and then some US flying. Probably not quite to the West Coast, but we could do Vancouver, for example."
The news of European connections is especially welcome for Virgin Australia frequent flyers, who lack a compelling European airline partner to earn points and status credits when flying around Europe -- which is now possible with Virgin Atlantic.
It wouldn't be the first time Virgin has tried its hand at European flights, with Virgin Express based in Brussels from 1996-2006 before merging to create Brussels Airlines and the short-lived Virgin Sun leisure airline experiment from 1999-2001.
For more Virgin Atlantic news and reviews from Australian Business Traveller, check out:
- Our extensive on-the-plane experience and review of the new Upper Class Dream Suite on board Virgin Atlantic's new A330s, loaded with real-world photos (and not just the glossy airline PR shots)
- AusBT's guides to the best seats in Premium Economy and in Upper Class (business) on the Airbus A340-600 planes Virgin Atlantic flies from Australia
- Virgin Atlantic's new whispering coach to reduce the noise in business class