Virgin Atlantic boss Sir Richard Branson has pledged to “give British Airways a run for their money” if his carrier wins the right to operate former BMI slots surrendered by BA.
Branson said: “We very much hope to get hold of the slots BA has to give up having brought BMI.
“We hope the European Commission will keep the slots together so Virgin can bring a seemless service to those routes.
“We will mount any sort of short-haul [operation] we can with the slots we get. The EC should give the slots as one lot, and if they don’t give the slots to us they should give the lot to someone else.”
Twelve pairs of Heathrow slots are available following BA’s takeover of BMI, but the European competition commissioner ruled they be distributed in two batches.
The slots will come with restrictions on the routes they can be used to operate, with a requirement to provide services from Edinburgh and Aberdeen to Heathrow.
Virgin Atlantic has already said it will bid for all the slots. Should it win them, Branson said: “We will wait on unveiling details [of our plans] until just prior to summer 2013. But we will give BA a run for their money.”
He dismissed a suggestion by Willie Walsh, head of BA parent International Airlines Group, that Virgin Atlantic has no experience of operating short-haul flights.
Branson said: “If you have flown on Virgin America or Virgin Australia you have had a taste of what Virgin short haul will be like. We have an awful lot of experience building domestic airlines. We have 200 short-haul aircraft.”
He added: “I thought there would be an outcry when the EU waived the [BMI] deal through and messed up the competitive landscape.”
Virgin has confirmed it will appeal against the decision. Branson said: “We hope to get the remaining slots on appeal.”
The carrier launched services to Vancouver last week. Speaking at Vancouver airport, Branson said: “You will find prices have come down since Virgin Atlantic announced it was coming on this route. That is what happens wherever we start new routes.”
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