Sir Richard Branson has today confirmed that Virgin Atlantic will introduce new economy, premium economy and Upper Class seating on its new A330 aircraft which will be delivered next year.
The A330s, the first of which will be delivered in March 2011 with a total of five being delivered in 2011 and a further five in 2012 will have “changes in both hard product and meal services” he confirmed in an interview in-flight on the Virgin’s inaugural flight to Ghana today.
The first two aircraft will first be introduced on “a leisure” route but subsequent deliveries will be brought onto routes such as JFK and Los Angeles.
Sir Richard would not confirm further details of the new seats, or the provider of the onboard connectivity, only saying that it would surpass even that offered by Virgin America.
The focus on leisure for these A330 aircraft, at least initially, is one Sir Richard says has been forced on the airline as a result of the extreme restriction on capacity at London Heathrow and the lack of slots is forcing Virgin Atlantic to look at Gatwick and the leisure market for launching new routes.
“We can’t get any slots, so when we want to launch a Ghana [flight], we have to drop a Mauritius,” Sir Richard said.
Accepting that the new coalition government has ruled out a third runway for London Heathrow, Sir Richard said he disagreed with the decision, but accepted it would be at least five years before it would be reconsidered which would mean that the UK would suffer from a further five year delay.
“It’s absurd that one of the busiest airports in the world only has two runways when Charles de Gaule has five or six” he said.
- Speaking of the effect of the BA strikes on Virgin, Sir Richard said that all cabins had seen an increase in demand since the strikes began, with Upper Class seeing a 10 per cent increase. “We are picking up British Airways customers and once they have tried the Virgin product they tend to stay with us. It is clear that the strike is doing the company long term damage as well as short term”. Nevertheless, Sir Richard said it was sad to see “BA tearing itself apart.”
- On the possibility of some kind of merger, acquisition of bmi, “There’s a logic in us tying up. It’s clear that bmi has no future as a standalone airline.”
- On the proposed alliance between BA and AA, Sir Richard asked (rhetorically) “What would happen if the merged BA and AA went on strike? What would happen then?” Sir Richard also said that if Virgin Atlantic were to lose the battle against the proposed tie-up between BA and AA, “We would challenge it in court.”
- IN light of the general consolidation in the airline industry, would Virgin consider an alliance or merger with another airline? “If the playing field is so set up against us and against independent airlines, then ultimately we would have to look at it. It’s not something we want to do, or are planning, but we might have to.”
- At the moment Virgin’s breakdown is 70/30 between business / leisure. Sir Richard sees the leisure proportion increasing as Gatwick and Manchester operations are enhanced because of restrictions at Heathrow.
A full report of the Accra inaugural, including interviews with Sir Richard Branson, Julie Southern, Chief Commercial and Financial Officer and Edmond Rose, Director Commercial and Revenue Planning will be published tomorrow.