Virgin Atlantic chief executive Shai Weis has demanded the government transform the way capacity is allocated at an expanded Heathrow to enable Virgin to become “a second flag carrier”.

Weiss told the Airlines 2050 conference in London: “The playing field needs to change.”

He called on industry representatives to “lobby MPs to change the rules” for allocating slots at Heathrow.

Weiss told the conference: “Imagine an industry in which the biggest player has British in its name, is a former state-owned business, has a dominant position in the market and that others are shut out.

“Look at the long-haul market. There is a limit to the destinations most airports in the UK can serve. Heathrow retains a vital role – it is why it’s crucial a third runway goes ahead.”

He argued: “About one third of passengers at Heathrow connect. For some services at Heathrow, it is 60%. Without connecting passengers, planes would not fly economically.

“Today, more than 55% of take-off and landing slots at Heathrow are operated by a single group. One in four passengers must fly with the largest airline, with no choice.

“We’re the second-largest operator at Heathrow and we operate 4% of slots, or 7% with our partners. We face competition on 100% of our Heathrow routes.”

Weiss said: “When a third runway is built, capacity will increase by 50%. Applying the current regime in allocating slots would provide Virgin Atlantic with 10 slots and our main competitor with 80.

“We have an opportunity to transform long-haul competition. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to transform the market. We’re advocating a correction of a market failure. But to do that we need to transform the way capacity is allocated.”

He insisted: “Britain requires a second flag carrier competing at scale, operating from the UK’s only hub airport.

“Today we launched a website, 2flagcarriers.com, to enable anyone who wants stronger competition to lobby their MP to change the rules.”