DALLAS – With the introduction of new aircraft from Airbus, Virgin Atlantic (VS) looks to have extra operating slots at London’s Heathrow Airport (LHR) as it aims to expand its network of routes to the US and Asia.
According to Chief Executive Officer Shai Weiss, the airline, which nearly averted bankruptcy during a cash crunch during the pandemic, is looking for more takeoff and landing slots at Europe’s largest airport, as the carrier’s fleet is set to grow from 37 to 46 aircraft by 2025.
Weiss stated on the airline’s inaugural flight from London to Tampa Bay, Florida, “A couple of new routes are under discussion, concentrating on regions where Virgin can exploit relationships with partners.” That may include additional US cities that the UK company operates in collaboration with Delta Air Lines (DL), a stakeholder.
The airline is also considering locations in Asia, where it just reached a code-share agreement with IndiGo (6E), the biggest airline in India. Virgin already flies to Delhi and Mumbai, and it’s considering how joining the SkyTeam global alliance early next year can expand its selection of routes. Flights to Seoul, where Korean Air Lines (KE) is headquartered, are among the options being considered.
As per Weiss, the US and Caribbean will continue to be Virgin’s core markets and account for around 70% of the company’s revenue. Prior to his tenure as CEO in 2019, the airline had a more extensive worldwide network, but it was mostly unsustainable, he claimed.
Outlook for Virgin Atlantic
For the near future, VS, which is owned by billionaire Richard Branson, will continue to use LHR as its single hub. Its choice to stop operating at Gatwick (LGW), south of London, contributed to yearly savings of US$346m. Although he excluded a comeback to LGW before 2024 at the earliest, VS will hold on to operating slots there in case it is not able to build up flights at Heathrow.
According to Weiss, Virgin’s fleet plans have been set for years ahead as new Airbus A350 and A330neo wide-body aircraft enter service after the departure of four-engined Airbus A340 and Boeing 747 aircraft.
According to Bloomberg, by 2025, the fleet will be operating at levels comparable to those before the pandemic, but with room for 20% additional flights due to better flexibility and the company’s focus on Heathrow, where it contends with longtime rival British Airways (BA). VS anticipates that capacity will reach pre-Covid levels by the end of the following summer.
Following the US$1.3bn bailout from Branson, DL, and other backers, Weiss stated Virgin’s finances are still “solid.” Despite having less capacity, full-year sales will surpass 2019 levels, and earnings before interest, tax, depreciation, and amortization are expected to beat the company’s previous projections.
Featured image: Virgin Atlantic G-VZIG Boeing 787-9. Photo: Brandon Farris/Airways