Virgin Atlantic will bid to operate all 12 of the slot pairs British Airways’ parent IAG will give up when it takes over BMI and intends to begin short-haul services between Scotland and Heathrow.
The carrier’s chief commercial officer Julie Southern told Travel Weekly: “We will bid for all the slots. We have always provided competition to BA. That is Richard’s [Sir Richard Branson’s] raison d’etre.”
Virgin Atlantic will operate to Cairo, Riyadh, Nice and Moscow as well as to Edinburgh and Aberdeen if it wins the slots, in a major departure from its current long-haul only strategy.
Southern said: “We believe we can provide point-to-point services. It would be an extension of our network using different aircraft.” IAG won the go ahead for its £172 million deal to buy BMI from Lufthansa at the end of March.
Virgin remains angry at the EU competition commissioner’s decision and may appeal, although this would not halt the takeover. Southern said: “We find it hard to believe the full ramifications can have been investigated in such a short period. The whole process has been pretty disappointing.”
BA’s owner will surrender 14 pairs of daily slots at Heathrow. Two will go to Transaero for services to Moscow. The remainder will be split: seven must be used between Heathrow and Edinburgh or Aberdeen, and five to operate routes to Nice, Cairo, Riyadh, Moscow and Edinburgh/Aberdeen again.
Southern said: “We want all 12 [slots]. We will wait to see the full judgment. There are so many aspects: can we get hold of them? What are the strings? Are there constraints? We are puzzled as to why the slots are in two groups. It would be sub-optimal for anyone to operate [a few]. We feel all 12 should stay together.”
She added: “It could be July or August before the judgment is published, so we are not looking at any competition this summer, and there is no right for any airline to have the slots. We will have to present a business case.”
But she said: “The Virgin brand has a massive resonance with consumers. We can be reasonably confident that if we offer a different mix of routes people will find it attractive. We would expect to bring enough elements of the Virgin style that people would know they were on a Virgin aircraft, enjoying a Virgin service. It would be recognisably Virgin.”
Aer Lingus is also expected to bid for the slots.
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