Virgin and Aer Lingus agree deal for short-haul flights

Aer Lingus is to lease aircraft to enable Virgin Atlantic to start its first UK domestic flights from Heathrow.

Tickets for the Scottish routes will start at £99 return when they go on sale from December 19.

Six return flights a day between Heathrow Terminal 1 and Edinburgh, with three to Aberdeen, start on March 31.

Three daily returns will also operate between Heathrow and Manchester.

The move will create 150 jobs including cabin crew, pilots, ground staff and office staff. Flying jobs will be spread across Aberdeen, Manchester and London.

Virgin Atlantic promises a “bespoke product and service” on the short-haul flights.

A letter of intent has been signed with Aer Lingus as a wet lease partner to supply the crew and Airbus A320 narrow body aircraft required, which will be fully Virgin branded.

Virgin said the decision was taken after “hard fought” competition from two carriers with two excellent business cases being presented to the airline.

Virgin Atlantic and Aer Lingus currently operate an interline agreement and plan to explore opportunities for further commercial co-operation in the future.

The new chapter in Virgin Atlantic’s history will see the airline increase capacity on the routes previously operated by Bmi, flying almost one million passengers a year domestically using four A320s in direct competition with British Airways.

Sir Richard Branson’s airline will take up nine of the 12 daily pairs of Heathrow slots to start the Scottish services which BA has had to surrender following parent IAG’s takeover of Bmi.

The airline has also used three of its own Heathrow slot-pairs to enable Manchester flights to be launched at the same time.

The schedule of the new flights will be timed to maximise connections for passengers travelling onwards from London across Virgin’s long-haul network.

Departures are to be spread at key points throughout the day including morning arrivals into Heathrow to give business travellers a full day in the capital and an early morning departure from London to Edinburgh for business visits to the Scottish capital.

Virgin Atlantic chief executive, Steve Ridgway said: “Throughout our history, Virgin Atlantic has successfully fought British Airways all over the world and has offered passengers a compelling alternative through our renowned product and service.

“We will look to replicate that in our short-haul flying and challenge the current BA monopoly on these routes which is causing serious consumer harm.

“Virgin Atlantic will offer millions of passengers in Scotland and Manchester connections around the world through our and our partners’ long-haul network, with the additional benefit of providing direct services to and from London Heathrow. This is a robust business model that will protect competition to and from Heathrow for the long term.”

Aer Lingus chief commercial officer Stephen Kavanagh said: “We are very pleased to have reached agreement in principle with Virgin Atlantic to provide the aircraft, maintenance and crew with which they will serve their new domestic operations, and look forward to now progressing to contract.”

Aer Lingus said the four aircraft would be leased to Virgin for an initial three year period.

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