Virgin Atlantic has taken the first step in its plans to start a short-haul network with three daily Heathrow to Manchester flights launching next spring.
The carrier, which has vowed to take on British Airways in the short-haul market following its arch rival’s takeover of Bmi, said it would use existing Heathrow slots for the Manchester service.
Virgin is also planning to apply for the 12 Heathrow slots that BA is giving up as part of the deal with the European Commission to secure competition clearance to buy Bmi.
Manchester is not one of the so-called “remedy slots” that BA is relinquishing, although Aberdeen and Edinburgh are included among these destinations.
Virgin said it will be using Heathrow slots which had previously been leased to another airline to fly to Manchester. A spokeswoman added that the move would not be affecting any of its long-haul services.
Virgin Atlantic chief executive Steve Ridgway said: “Flying between Heathrow and Manchester is just the start for Virgin Atlantic’s new short-haul operation.
“We have the means to connect thousands of passengers to our long haul network as well as to destinations served by other carriers.
“Our new service will provide strong competition to omnipresent BA; keep fares low and give consumers a genuine choice of airline to fly to Heathrow and beyond.”
The airline will operate flights to Manchester using Airbus A319 aircraft and tickets are already on sale.
“Operating a London to Manchester route will provide an invaluable feed to our existing long-haul network for both business and leisure passengers,” added Ridgway.
“It is the perfect introduction to short-haul flights for Virgin Atlantic – we know that passengers travelling from Manchester connect onto destinations we already serve, including Boston, Cape Town and Hong Kong.”
The 12 Bmi slots being given up by BA include seven daily pairs to be used between Heathrow and either Edinburgh or Aberdeen. There are also five daily slots which have to be used from Heathrow to Nice, Cairo, Riyadh, Moscow and Edinburgh or Aberdeen.
The deadline for airlines to submit bids for these slots is on Thursday (August 23) with a decision expected to be revealed in December. Carriers will begin operating the routes from the start of the summer 2013 season next March.
For more information visit virgin-atlantic.com.
Report by Rob Gill
This report was originally published on Business Traveller‘s sister website abtn.co.uk.