MIAMI — David Cush, president and CEO of Virgin America, sat down with Airways after his triumphant entrance to Dallas Love Field with Virgin Group founder Sir Richard Branson on the Uber Downtown Express flight from Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport. He spoke about what the move to Love Field will mean to his airline and the citizens of Dallas, as well as about other developments.
Airways: Obviously this is a big move for Virgin. It’s your biggest expansion so far, or at least in the last five years. How important was this move for you from DFW to Love Field?
David Cush: Well, it was very important for us that we would not have launched flights to the east coast from DFW. Very simply, American is too strong at DFW to go up against them. We were confident with LA and San Francisco because we’ve got big bases there. So this is important because we think, number one it will also strengthen our San Francisco and LA flights, which is why we’re increasing, but also because it makes it possible for us to launch service into New York and Reagan National.
Airways: Are you also still looking into flights to Chicago, pending regulatory approval?
Cush: Well, we don’t really need regulatory approval for Chicago—we need gates, which we don’t have right now. We’re going to sit tight on that for a while. We think with these two gates that we can get about 18 departures a day out of Love Field. As of April, we’ll have four flights to each of our destinations, so that’s 16, so we’re just going to be careful about how we use those last two. It certainly could be Chicago; it’s at the top of our list for new cities, but we may also just decide to add additional frequencies to existing cities.
Airways: Are there any other cities you’re looking at for future service that may be of interest?
Cush: Probably Chicago is the biggest one, I’ll say, as far as out of Love Field. It’s a massive market and, again, we’re just being very careful about where we use our final two frequencies.
Airways: Are you looking to grow in Dallas in the future, or are you comfortable with the 16-18 departures a day?
Cush: We will not split operations, so we’re not going to reopen DFW. That’s just too expensive; and we’ve got two gates, and our expectation is that we will have to figure out how to operate out of those two gates. So my guess is you’re not going to see a lot of expansion as far as out of Dallas, unless gates magically become open, which I doubt they will.
Airways: Since the other carriers involved in the repeal of the Wright Amendment, Southwest and American, are legally bound not to further appeal what remains of the Wright Amendment, would Virgin see down the road possibly trying to carry on that torch to expand the airport?
Cush: No, not really. I was here when that battle was fought. It was a compromise with the community; these are compromises we have every day when you have airports or any other facility surrounded by neighborhoods. And I think it would be out of place for us to be the ones to challenge it. This is Southwest and American’s home; we’re visitors.
Airways: Could you see possibly trying to acquire one of the other gates here?
Cush: Now that’s a little bit contentious right now, and I’m going to stay out of it. They have their own issues they’re dealing with, and we’re happy with our two gates. We’re going to come in and just do a good job.
Airways: So far, are ticket sales reflecting that the additions of New York and D.C. were good decisions for you?
Cush: Yes—look, it’s very early. Washington just started today; New York starts in a couple of weeks. It’s very early, but what we’ve seen with LA and San Francisco, where we have comparisons because we flew from DFW last year, looks very good. We’re confident with things going forward.
Airways: Does it look like you’re going to be able to support the extra frequencies pretty easily?
Airways: Obviously Virgin is sort of a niche market; its routes are few compared to a lot of the other carriers. Have you looked into possibly codesharing with another carrier U.S.-based carrier?
Cush: We haven’t looked at it seriously. My strong gut feeling is that if we asked anyone they would say no. Their network strength is really the most overwhelming benefit they have, and they wouldn’t want us to be able to piggyback off that. So it’s not really in the plans for us.
Airways: And are there any other international carriers that you’re looking at?
Cush: Well we do a lot of international stuff, interline as well as codeshare. I believe we’re just announcing a new codeshare tomorrow with China Airlines, so we do a lot, in particular out of LA and San Francisco with Asian carriers that are looking for some feed.
Airways: Have you looked at some of the other carriers like Porter or someone more on the east coast that would connect with your network?
Cush: We were close to the guys at Porter. Don Carty is our chairman and their chairman. We’ve looked at partnering with them in the past when we were in Toronto, but that simply didn’t work. They’ve got some automation challenges that would make that difficult in terms of partnering, so they aren’t high on our list, but they certainly run a fine airline.
Airways: This is the first time that any destination outside the west coast has gotten eastbound traffic. Could we see other destinations, like Chicago or Austin, with eastbound traffic?
Cush: It’s hard to tell. I think we try not to get ahead of ourselves. We’re going to try and learn a lot from our experience here at Love Field and then take it from there. Our expectation is we will open up more focus cities, for lack of a better term, in the U.S.; it’s just that we want to learn from this one first.
Airways: Are any of those foreseen as being more on the east coast side? You run a lot of short-haul flights up and down the west coast, but that doesn’t really exist on the east coast for you. Is that something you’re looking at?
Cush: Not a lot. We’ve got a pretty big operation in New York—we serve all three airports. We are doing a little north-south flying out of New York this winter, just seasonally. It’s not really big in our plans. Those are well-served markets with very strong competitors. I think we’re pretty comfortable where we are.
Airways: Are there any other cities either in the network now or, perhaps more interestingly, that aren’t in the network now, that you’d like to target for a next focus city?
Cush: We don’t want to get ahead of ourselves. We’re going to develop Love Field; we’re going to, I believe, learn a lot from our experience here, and that’s really going to influence where we go next.
Airways: How has the withdraw from Philadelphia gone over so far?
Cush: It was fine. You know, the mayor and the city were disappointed, but they were very gracious. They didn’t take any shots at us as we were leaving. We love Philadelphia—I wish we could have made it work. And we’ll be back there someday, but they were all very good to us all the way to the end.