Virgin Atlantic eyes bmi slots for launch of UK flights

Virgin Atlantic is preparing to bid for the 12 pairs of Heathrow slots that will be freed up following British Airways’ takeover of bmi as Richard Branson sets his sights on launching his first UK domestic flights, reported The Daily Telegraph.

The airline is calling on the European Commission to ensure the 12 slots are auctioned as one complete package to provide the “most effective” competition to BA owner International Airlines Group (IAG).

IAG will dominate 51 percent of Heathrow slots after the bmi deal is completed on April 20.

It agreed to relinquish 14 pairs of take-off and landing slots to satisfy European competition authorities. Of the 14, two are already leased to Russian airline Transaero, meaning 12 would be available for a new entrant.

Virgin, which currently holds three percent of Heathrow slots, has long hankered after a foothold in the UK domestic market. It has failed on several occasions to buy bmi.

Julie Southern, chief commercial officer at Virgin Atlantic, said the 12 slots relinquished by IAG were a “wholly inadequate” remedy to increasing competition on certain UK and European routes but the airline would nevertheless be among the bidders. 

The auction process is expected to commence in several weeks.

Southern told The Daily Telegraph: “We will apply to take up all of the remedy. We think it is important that the 12 pairs of slots stay together. It’s only by flying those all together that you get effective competition.”

She urged the EC to consider other examples of when coveted slots have been distributed among several airlines only for some operators to cease flying those routes within a few years as they proved unviable.

“They [the EC] have to be cognisant of selecting people who will be sustained competitors,” she said.

The EC has split the 14 slots into three separate groups: seven pairs that have to be used between Heathrow and Scotland; the two Transaero slots; and five further daily slots with various destination restrictions.

The way the package was divided has raised some concerns at Virgin that the EC is targeting more than one airline.

Virgin is expected to face stiff competition from Aer Lingus, although the Irish carrier is understood to be “bilaterally constrained” from operating some of the routes.

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