The new boss of Virgin Atlantic has said its new domestic service in the UK, Little Red, will succeed on domestic routes where BMI struggled thanks to its links to a long-haul network.
Craig Kreeger, who took the top job on February 1, said the new service, flying from Manchester, Aberdeen and Edinburgh into London Heathrow, will be a key part of the wider Virgin Atlantic business.
“It really is about getting passengers down to Heathrow and connecting on to our long haul networks. If we didn’t think they’d made sense, there’s no reason for us to be flying them,” he said.
Virgin last year acquired 12 pairs of take-off and landing slots at Heathrow that British Airways was forced to give up after buying BMI.
Asked why he thought Little Red would succeed where BMI had not, he said: “We’ve done this in a way that will work. BMI obviously struggled but they didn’t have the long-haul network to connect to.
“So it’s a completely different proposition from a business case standpoint to create a short haul network that feeds a long haul network the size of ours which gives the capability for it to be successful.
He denied industry suggestions that Virgin only bid for the slots to block rivals from acquiring them, noting that the Scottish slots in particular can only be used for those specific routes.
He was speaking ahead of an ‘inaugural’ launch flight today on which he and Virgin founder Sir Richard Branson will fly from Heathrow to Edinburgh.
Once in the Scottish capital, the pair are expected to be joined by Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s deputy first minister, to discuss the economic benefits of the new services.
The actual first flights began between Manchester and London on Easter Sunday, with Edinburgh joining the network on Friday, and the Aberdeen route opening tomorrow. (April 9)
The Little Red planes are A320s which have been ‘wet leased’ from Aer Lingus. “That means Aer Lingus is actually flying the plane on our behalf. So they’re employing the cockpit and the cabin crew and operating the flight with our livery and our product,” he said.
Mr Kreeger went on to say that such a lease is cheaper to run given Virgin has no experience of operating narrow-bodied planes. All the staff are however trained by Virgin, with the new chief executive describing it as “a single class, short haul flight, with a Virgin style.”
“It’s a way of offering the virgin product to a different set of customers who have not had access to that before,” he said.
He also dismissed any suggestion that Virgin Atlantic was placing itself in competition with Virgin Trains, which runs services between London, Manchester and Edinburgh, and is part-owned by Sir Richard.
“We’re not viewing that as a primary competitor on this route. We obviously think this is about offering our entire network to the people of say, Manchester, and Manchester to the rest of our network.
“Yes we will carry some people between Manchester and Heathrow, airport to airport, if that’s convenient for them. But the bigger opportunity for us is Manchester to the rest of the world, and therefore BA is our primary competitor.”
James Quinn Telegraph.co.uk