Virgin Atlantic is to start its first UK domestic flights from next spring after winning the right to compete against British Airways on routes to Scotland from Heathrow
Flights to Edinburgh and Aberdeen are due to be launched around March 31 to complement a new Heathrow-Manchester route the airline is also introducing next year.
Virgin Atlantic will be working with a wet lease partner to provide 150-seat narrow body Airbus A320 aircraft to operate the short haul flights.
Virgin’s entry into the short haul arena comes after European competition authorities ordered BA to give up 14 slot pairs at Heathrow as a condition of approving its merger with Bmi, whose parent company International Airline Group bought from Lufthansa last year for £186 million.
Virgin also plans to serve Nice and is still hopeful of winning the right to fly to Moscow from Heathrow despite the Civil Aviation Authority assigning the rights to EasyJet from Gatwick.
Sir Richard Branson’s airline said it had been offered all of the Heathrow short haul ‘remedy slots’ available following IAG’s acquisition of Bmi. This means that Aer Lingus has lost a challenge to start a Heathrow-Edinburgh service.
Virgin aims to finalise its plans for utilisation of the available slots and to confirm a flying timetable over the next two weeks.
The airline will primarily focus on its flying between Scotland and Heathrow running multiple daily flights from Edinburgh and Aberdeen.
Specific details of its short haul product and on board customer service will be revealed in the coming months.
Virgin said its business case was based on one airline mounting a “credible challenge” to BA’s short haul flying to Heathrow – a move supported by the Scottish Passenger Agents Association.
The airline’s chief executive Steve Ridgway said: “We have fought hard for the right to fly short haul and take a strong challenge to British Airways within these shores.
“For 28 years both airlines have battled for customers all over the world and it has meant that British consumers have ultimately had some of the world’s best flying and lowest fares.
“This is the beginning of an exciting new era in Virgin Atlantic history and we now feel a responsibility to everyone that has supported us in this challenge.
“Passengers can look forward to a great short haul service with us but most importantly reap the benefits from the re-injection of vital competition we can provide on these routes.”