British routes to be flown by Aer Lingus on behalf of Virgin Airways
AER Lingus is to operate four aircraft between London's Heathrow and destinations including Edinburgh and Manchester on behalf of Richard Branson's Virgin Atlantic airline from next year, it has been confirmed.
The deal between the two airlines could be the beginning of a more extensive relationship. They currently operate a so-called interline agreement and said they will "explore opportunities for further commercial co-operation in the future", they said yesterday.
Aer Lingus has agreed on a preliminary basis to operate the aircraft for Virgin on a wet-lease basis, where it not only supplies the airplanes but also the crew and associated maintenance. It will be a three-year contract and is slated to begin next March.
The Irish carrier was dealt a blow last month in its efforts to launch its first ever British domestic service, which would have operated between Heathrow and Edinburgh.
Virgin was awarded the take-off and landing slots in Heathrow required to launch the service last month.
Those slots had been surrendered by British Airways as one of the conditions laid down by the European Commission for it being permitted to acquire BMI earlier this year.
Virgin intends to operate six return flights a day between Heathrow and Edinburgh, and three daily return flights between Heathrow and Aberdeen. It will also operate three daily return services between Heathrow and Manchester.
Richard Branson yesterday said he plans to retain control of Virgin Atlantic even as Delta Airlines remains in discussion about acquiring Singapore Airlines' 49pc stake in the entrepreneur's airline.
He said that Willie Walsh – the head of British Airways and IAG, which owns Iberia – is "misguided" in saying that the Virgin brand will vanish if Delta manages to buy into the airline.
"Rumours have spread that I am planning to give up control of Virgin Atlantic, and according to Willie Walsh. . . our brand will soon disappear," said Mr Branson. "This is wishful thinking and totally misguided."