Virgin Atlantic to lease out Little Red Heathrow slots

Virgin Atlantic is to lease out two pairs of valuable Heathrow take-off and landing slots to competitors while it awaits its new fleet of Boeing 787s.

The airline, 51% owned by Sir Richard Branson, is in talks to rent out the slots to rival carriers, rather than use them itself.

Virgin Atlantic said it does not currently have the aircraft to fill the slots, but plans to use them eventually as it expands, The Sunday Times reported.

The slots have been freed up by the decision to axe its Virgin Little Red domestic airline.

It has used the afternoon and evening slots to fly between London and Manchester. The other slots, freed by Little Red’s demise, will have to be returned to British Airways as they were part of a European regulatory deal following BA’s takeover of BMI.

Virgin Atlantic told the newspaper: “We are planning to lease these on a short- term basis, but they will remain open to us and that gives us options for growth as our new aircraft become available.

“The slots in question are not peak slots; they are not well timed for transatlantic flying . . . We still want to see an increase in capacity at peak times.”

Airline analysts said the decision to relinquish the slots was curious because Virgin’s joint owner, Delta Air Lines, was keen to lay on more transatlantic flights.

Virgin is upgrading its fleet to include fuel efficient Boeing 787 Dreamliners, with the first arriving last month.

Slots at Heathrow are highly prized. American Airlines paid Cyprus Airways nearly £20 million for a pair of noon take-off and landing slots at the airport in the summer, the report said.

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