Branson pledges ‘massive expansion’ if Heathrow constraints lifted

Sir Richard Branson has promised “massive expansion” by Virgin Atlantic if the government performs a U-turn and Heathrow gets a third runway.

The Virgin Atlantic president said lack of slots at Heathrow was holding the airline back. Branson said: “We are so constrained at Heathrow. There are so many routes we would like to fly.

“The only thing we can do is hope for a third runway, hope that the politicans realise this is damaging the UK. Then we would do a massive expansion.”

Branson said: “Lack of airport capacity is holding back this country more than anything. In the last 10 years we have put on 200 aircraft in America and Australia. Yet Virgin Atlantic has only been able to get 38 aircraft in 27 years.

“We are not flying to South America. We’re not flying to Russia. It is because we can’t get the slots.”

Branson insisted Virgin Atlantic’s expansion was not held back by lack of cash despite a lengthy search for a new investment partner. The carrier remains 49%-owned by Singapore Airlines, which indicated some time ago it was prepared to sell.

He told Travel Weekly: “We are a fussy bride. But we are working well with Singapore Airlines. We have a great relationship. I don’t think there will be any changes there.”

Branson said Virgin’s search for partners “is more about buidling new network connections”. He pledged: “There will be further announcements on that.”

The Virgin president blamed the recently announced end to services to Kenya on constraints at Heathrow, saying: “It is another slot issue. If we had the right slots [allowing connections onwards from Heathrow] we could have kept the route going.”

He said: “The government has boxed itself in on Heathrow. [But] we should at least have one runway built.

“Planes are getting quieter. A lot of noise that Heathrow gets at the moment is from planes going round and round waiting to land. Some of that would go away if we had a third runway. You could have very strict rules on noise and we would support that.

“The thing that wakes people up are dirty, noisy planes and they should not be allowed into Heathrow.”

Branson also hit out at the government over Air Passenger Duty (APD), calling the tax “unacceptable”. He said: “We have asked the government to undertake a report on the impact of the tax. If they won’t, we will get on with it ourselves.

“The taxman is squeezing the industry and squeezing individuals who want to fly. When Freddie Laker started [Laker Airways] he talked about enabling people to fly who have never been able to afford it. Now the taxman is making it difficult for the average person to go on holiday. We have to fight hard to get APD reduced.”

Laker Airways pioneered budget transatlantic flights in the late 1970s following a long battle with the authorities.

Virgin Atlantic launched its second route to Canada at the end of last week with an inaugural flight to Vancouver.

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