VIRGIN Atlantic is to scrap its Little Red domestic service next year, blaming its demise on a lack of business travellers and the “totally inadequate” number of runway slots offered up by regulators.
The airline, which flies to Aberdeen and Edinburgh from Heathrow, also admitted that it had failed to draw in enough customers who were willing to connect with its parent group’s long-haul routes.
Little Red launched in March last year with services between London and Manchester, having acquired take-off and landing slots at Heathrow after the takeover of BMI by IAG, the owner of British Airways and Iberia. It introduced flights to Scotland the following month.
But Virgin Atlantic chief executive Craig Kreeger said yesterday that the outfit had been unable to make a “positive contribution” to the group and it will stop flying to Manchester at the end of March, with Scottish services ceasing in September.
Kreeger said: “It was always a huge challenge on behalf of the consumer, as the totally inadequate number of slots made available by the European Commission did not deliver close to BA’s network position, even when supplemented by our own slots to fly between Heathrow and Manchester.
“The time lag between the takeover of BMI and our entering the market also meant Little Red faced an uphill battle to win recognition and convert customers to its services.”
The decision was described as “disappointing” by a spokeswoman for Aberdeen Airport, which itself has been put up for sale by owner Heathrow.
She added: “From what we understand, this decision has been taken as part of a wider review of operations, in which the services hadn’t performed as they were hoping.
“We will continue to work with the Virgin Atlantic team over the coming year to deliver to their passengers, and everyone using our airport.”
A spokesman for Edinburgh Airport said: “We will of course give Virgin Atlantic Little Red all the support we can during its last year. Edinburgh Airport’s success is built on giving our passengers choice and whilst we’re disappointed to be losing this service, we know that an opportunity still remains. We’re sure that others will be interested in exploring this with us.”
Figures published in April showed that Virgin Atlantic, in which US carrier Delta has a 49 per cent stake, narrowed its pre-tax losses to £51 million in 2013, from £102m the previous year, and Kreeger said the airline was on track to deliver a profit by the end of this year.
Sir Richard Branson, who owns 51 per cent of the airline he founded in 1984, said: “When the competition authorities allowed British Airways to take over BMI and all of its slots, we feared there was little we could do to challenge BA’s huge domestic and European network built through decades of dominance.
“To remedy this, we were offered a meagre package of slots on a short-term basis and decided to lease a couple of planes and give it our best shot. The odds were stacked against us and sadly we just couldn’t attract enough corporate business on these routes.”
Virgin Atlantic insisted that it was committed to its operations in Scotland, with extra flights to be added to its route between Glasgow and Orlando in the summer. It is also introducing a service from Glasgow to Las Vegas next year.