SIR Richard Branson’s Virgin Atlantic airline will go head-to-head with British Airways next year when it begins flying passengers between two Scottish cities and London Heathrow.
Virgin today said it had been offered all the short-haul take-off and landing slots available following the takeover of BMI by BA’s parent company, IAG.
It plans to begin services from around 31 March and will focus on “multiple daily flights” between Edinburgh and Aberdeen and Heathrow.
Scottish business groups and travel agents had been backing the bid to take on the so-called “remedy slots” to increase competition.
In September, Virgin Atlantic chief executive Steve Ridgway said hundreds of jobs could be created if the carrier secured the right to launch the Scottish flights. He added that the airline aimed to poach 40 per cent of BA’s passengers on the Aberdeen and Edinburgh routes.
IAG had to yield the slots to secure European Commission approval for the takeover of BMI.
In today’s statement, Virgin said that its business case had been based on one airline operating a package of remedy slots so it could mount a “credible challenge” to BA’s short-haul flying to Heathrow – Britain’s busiest airport.
Ridgway said: “We have fought hard for the right to fly short-haul and take a strong challenge to British Airways within these shores. This is the beginning of an exciting new era in Virgin Atlantic history and we now feel a responsibility to everyone that has supported us in this challenge.”
He added: “Passengers can look forward to a great short-haul service with us, but most importantly reap the benefits from the re-injection of vital competition we can provide.”
The carrier said it would use the next two weeks to finalise its plans for the slots and confirm a flying timetable.
The routes will complement a Heathrow-Manchester service Virgin is also introducing next year.
The airline said it was working with a leasing partner to provide narrow-body Airbus A320 aircraft to operate the short-haul flights.
Gordon Dewar, head of Edinburgh Airport, which earlier this year was sold by operator BAA to Global Infrastructure Partners, said: “This is good news for Scottish passengers. We’re focused on providing Scotland with choice both in terms of routes and carriers whilst extending its reach across the world.
“This new regular service does exactly that, giving choice to Heathrow and opening up a new set of onward destinations for our passengers.”
However, Holyrood transport minister Keith Brown said he remained concerned about the lack of competition on the Glasgow to Heathrow route as a consequence of BMI’s withdrawal of the service last year.
Glasgow was not part of the remedies package considered by the European Commission.
Irish airline Aer Lingus had also applied to take over the former BMI slots between Edinburgh and Heathrow.
An Aer Lingus spokesman said: “Aer Lingus has been informed that it has been ranked second in its application for slots to be released by IAG to operate the London Heathrow-Edinburgh route.
“We are awaiting receipt of a copy of the European Commission’s decision, setting out the basis of this ranking.”