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Fifth African service for Virgin Atlantic

25 May 2010 by Tom Otley

Virgin Atlantic has commenced three-times weekly flights between London Heathrow and Accra, the capital of Ghana.

Speaking at the inaugural Sir Richard Branson declared that Ghana was “one of the success stories of Africa” and that the airline’s fifth African route was unlikely to be its last on the continent, with future plans including Uganda and Morocco. To view images from the inaugural celebrations, click here.

Edmond Rose, Virgin’s Director Commercial and Revenue Planning said that “… the Accra service has been planned for a long time, at least four years” and confirmed that it was attractive not only in terms of traffic and potential traffic on the route, but also because of the mix between both leisure and business as well as “front and back” (ie: premium and economy”).

“British Airways had a near monopoly on the route and have not been properly challenged with competition so it’s clearly an attractive prospect to us.”

Rose also confirmed that for the flights to commence, a bilateral agreement had to be signed between Ghana and the UK. Previously the limit of flights between the two countries was nine per week, with BA using seven of these for its service. Virgin will now fly three-times weekly.

The aircraft on the route, an A340-300 with 246 seats (34 Upper Class, 35 premium economy and 171 economy – click here for the seatplan) flies at times more convenient for onward traffic for travellers originating in Ghana than in the UK. The times departing London Heathrow Terminal 3 are Thursdays, Fridays and Sunday at 2230 and arriving in Accra at 0415 with the return from Accra departing Fridays, Saturdays and Mondays at 1015 and arriving at 1800 (Mondays 0805 arriving at 1550).

The flight times are less advantageous than the day time flights of BA, and on the return flight from Accra, BA’s overnight services also have the advantage of arriving in the morning to make connections, but Rose said that Virgin’s lack of slots meant that it had very few flights arriving at London Heathrow before 0900. Virgin actually has only four per cent of the slots at Heathrow, behind BA, Bmi and Lufthansa, he pointed out.

Nevertheless the flight times allow for a full day’s work in the UK before flying, and for the return flight for travellers from Ghana there is the possibility of a transfer onto Virgin’s flights to Newark. (There is a direct flight with Delta from Accra to New York, but  this is only three times weekly and Virgin feels there is potential for connecting traffic through onto this flight). Virgin is also hoping for point to point traffic on the route and, on the leisure side, for VFR (Visiting Friends and Relatives). 

As with Virgin’s flights to Lagos and Nairobi (but not Johannesburg and Cape Town) economy class passengers have an increased luggage allowance of two bags of up to 23kg.

Virgin is targeting big corporate accounts such as Tullow Oil and Vodafone as well as the Foreign Office, NGOs and aid and development workers.

Nick Westcott, the British High Commissioner to Ghana welcomed Virgin’s arrival in Ghana, saying it was an “…indication of the increased confidence of the international community in the Ghananian economy.” 

Virgin’s arrival on the route increases capacity by 60,000 seats per year, around 35 per cent. The flights will also carry around 1200 tonnes of cargo from Ghana to the UK. 

For more information visit virginatlantic.com.

Report by Tom Otley

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