Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Atlantic Airways announced today that it will start operating domestic flights in the UK from spring 2013.
The airline has revealed plans to launch 24 short-haul services in partnership with Irish carrier Aer Lingus Group plc (ISE:EIL1) (LSE:AERL).
Virgin Atlantic intends to take nine daily pairs of slots at London’s Heathrow Airport which rival British Airways has to give up in order to ensure competition on key routes previously flown by bmi. The smaller carrier was acquired by International Airlines Group (LSE:IAG), the parent company of British Airways, earlier this year.
Under the plans announced today, Virgin Atlantic will introduce six round-trip flights a day between Heathrow and Edinburgh and three daily round-trip flights between Heathrow and Aberdeen from April 2013. The airline will also use three of its own Heathrow slot-pairs to offer three daily round-trip services between Heathrow and Manchester, starting on 31 March 2013.
According to Virgin Atlantic, British Airways currently has a monopoly on all three of these routes. The launch of the new domestic services is expected to create around 130 flying jobs and 25 new head office jobs in the UK.
Subject to contract, the flights will be operated by Aer Lingus under a ‘wet lease’ agreement with an initial term of three years. The Irish airline plans to lease to Virgin four Airbus A320-200 aircraft together with all crew, all maintenance, hull and third party legal liability insurance. The services will be fully Virgin branded.
Virgin Atlantic and Aer Lingus already have a business relationship through an interline agreement and they said today that they will explore opportunities for further commercial cooperation in the future.
Sir Richard Branson is currently also in talks with Air France-KLM and US carrier Delta Air Lines on a possible deal in which they would acquire a stake in Virgin Atlantic.