Virgin Atlantic to fly between Scotland and Heathrow

Virgin Atlantic planes Virgin Atlantic hopes to begin flights between Scotland and Heathrow next summer

Virgin Atlantic has said it plans to launch two new domestic services between London and Scottish airports.

The airline's chief executive, Steve Ridgeway, told BBC Scotland he wants to have the flights - from Aberdeen and Edinburgh to Heathrow - up and running next summer.

Virgin has just announced a new service between Manchester and Heathrow, its first foray into the domestic market.

Mr Ridgeway said creating a short-haul network would increase choice.

In an interview with BBC Radio Scotland, he said it was "important to keep Scotland connected to the rest of the world".

Short haul is not a Virgin Atlantic speciality, but tussling with British Airways certainly is.

So getting into UK feeder flights for the terminal at Heathrow will give Sir Richard Branson some reassurance, after seeing BMI swallowed up by BA, and then the loss of his West Coast rail franchise.

He appears to have BA over a barrel on the Heathrow slots for links to Aberdeen and Edinburgh.

The competition regulator's clearance for buying BMI required not only that it release some of BMI's valuable landing slots at the London hub, but that some of those should be secured for UK routes on which BA no longer had BMI competition.

As no-one else seemed to be in the market for running the Edinburgh and Aberdeen routes, Virgin is in a very strong negotiating position on price.

But as BMI had already given up Heathrow-Glasgow, regulators did not require BA to make slots available for links to Clydeside.

The Scottish links are doubly important for the economy's connectivity - not only providing competition for BA, but as a feeder into the Star Alliance terminal, which Virgin shares with many other airlines.

He added: "Initially there will be three services a day out of Manchester.

"There will be flights in the key peak morning time, again at lunchtime and again in the evening, and we will look to ultimately replicate that sort of thing out of Scotland as well.

"But there is a process to go through between now and the end of the year to ensure that we are successful in obtaining those landing rights at Heathrow, so that we can start to offer a service out of Scotland from next summer."

The European Commission is expected later this year to decide on who will secure slots at Heathrow which became available following the takeover of BMI by British Airways owner International Airline Group.

Mike Cantley from tourism agency VisitScotland said improved flight connections would help the economy.

He commented: "Heathrow is very important. About 20 million people will be using Terminal 2, increasing to 30 million over time.

"So good connectivity through Heathrow is vital for Scottish tourism and Scottish business."

Virgin Atlantic was founded by Sir Richard Branson, and is 49% owned by Singapore Airlines.

Earlier this month it reported an annual loss because of higher fuel prices.

The carrier made a loss of £80m in the 12 months to the end of February, compared with a profit of £18.5m a year earlier.

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