Virgin Atlantic plans “dramatic expansion” at Heathrow and intends to take on British Airways as “a second UK flag carrier” when a third runway opens.

Shai Weiss, Virgin Atlantic chief executive, believes the airline’s joint acquisition of Flybe in February will radically strengthen his argument to obtain more slots at Heathrow.

Weiss told Travel Weekly: “You have to see the acquisition of Flybe in the context of the third runway.”


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Flybe was “minutes away from liquidation” in January when Virgin Atlantic stepped in with US private equity partner Cyrus Capital and Southend Airport owner Stobart Group to buy the regional carrier.

The deal was completed when the consortium, christened Connect Airways, bought out Flybe group shareholders in March. The takeover is awaiting final regulatory clearance.

Weiss said: “We saved over 2,000 jobs and 1,400 pensions at Flybe. It’s a great opportunity to feed passengers into Manchester and Heathrow.”

Flybe operates 12 take-off and landing slots at Heathrow and 340 at Manchester.

However, Weiss said: “Our aim is to expand dramatically at Heathrow once a third runway is in place. To do that, we need to change the way slots are allocated at Heathrow.”

He argued: “British Airways continues to have a dominant position [at Heathrow]. Politicians understand the need for more competition. Britain needs a second flag carrier from Heathrow [and for that] we need significant slots at Heathrow.”

British Airways and parent company IAG currently hold about 55% of slots at Heathrow.

Weiss said: “We need to change the slot regime at Heathrow. I’m sure it will change [and] we are the only credible carrier [to take advantage].

“The decision [on a third runway] will be taken in the next 12-24 months. We bought Flybe to demonstrate we are serious about feeder traffic. This is a step towards a third runway at Heathrow.”

MoreBig Interview: Shai Weiss
‘We aim to be the most-loved travel company’, Virgin Atlantic chief executive outlines the airline’s strategy. Ian Taylor reports

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