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Virgin Atlantic: Once in a generation
slot reform — November 2019

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Virgin Atlantic’s announcement in September that it planned to operate up to 84 new routes from London Heathrow, assuming the third runway is eventually built, certainly caught the headlines. The plan, according to Virgin, is to challenge British Airways’ dominance at the airport by operating 37 new European routes, 12 new UK routes and 35 new long-haul routes. At present Virgin Atlantic serves just 19 intercontinental destinations. It is proposing that it should be awarded, presumably at no cost, over 40% of the new slots which will become available with the construction of a new runway.

This isn’t the first time that Virgin Atlantic has threatened to challenge BA’s dominant position in UK aviation in general, and at Heathrow in particular. Indeed, throughout its existence, since 1984, Virgin has been engaged in a running battle with its larger competitor, although the confrontation’s intensity (and headline grabbing) has declined in recent years, coinciding with Delta’s purchase of a 49% stake in the UK carrier. Unlike other would-be challengers to BA, Virgin Atlantic has at least survived, but it never really made the break-through it sought to establish itself as a major threat to the larger carrier.


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