|Commenced operations||22 June 1984|
|AOC #||534 (VAA Ltd)|
2435 (VAI Ltd)
|Frequent-flyer program||Flying Club|
|Parent company||Virgin Atlantic Limited|
|Headquarters||Crawley, West Sussex, England|
|Revenue||£2,689 million (2016)|
|Operating income||£153.2 million (2016)|
Virgin Atlantic, a trading name of Virgin Atlantic Airways Limited and Virgin Atlantic International Limited, is a British airline with its head office in Crawley, United Kingdom. The airline was established in 1984 as British Atlantic Airways, and was originally planned by its co-founders Randolph Fields and Alan Hellary to fly between London and the Falkland Islands. Soon after changing the name to Virgin Atlantic Airways, Fields sold his shares in the company after disagreements with Sir Richard Branson over the management of the company. The maiden flight from Gatwick Airport to Newark Liberty International Airport took place on 22 June 1984.
The airline along with Virgin Holidays is controlled by a holding company, Virgin Atlantic Limited, which is 51% owned by the Virgin Group and 49% by Delta Air Lines. It is administratively separate from other Virgin-branded airlines. Virgin Atlantic Airways Limited and Virgin Atlantic International Limited both hold Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) Type A Operating Licences (AOC numbers 534 and 2435 respectively), both of which permit these airlines, operating as Virgin Atlantic Airways, to carry passengers, cargo and mail on aircraft with 20 or more seats.
Virgin Atlantic uses a mixed fleet of Airbus and Boeing wide-body aircraft and operates to destinations in North America, the Caribbean, Africa, the Middle East and Asia from its main bases in London (Heathrow and Gatwick), and its secondary base at Manchester. The airline also operates seasonal flights from Glasgow and Belfast. Virgin Atlantic aircraft consist of three cabins: Economy, Premium (formerly Premium economy) and Upper Class (business).
In 2012, Virgin Atlantic carried 5.4 million passengers, making it the seventh-largest UK airline in terms of passenger volume. On 31 December 2013, it reported a £51 million group pre-tax loss (approximately US$87 million), however, in the year to 31 December 2014 the airline reported a return to pre-tax profit of £14.4 million. In July 2017, Virgin Atlantic announced its intention to form a joint venture with Air France-KLM. Under the agreement, Air France-KLM will acquire a 31% stake in Virgin Atlantic currently held by Virgin Group for £220 million. The deal is scheduled to be completed in early 2019.
Virgin Atlantic has its origins in a joint endeavour by Randolph Fields, an American-born lawyer, and Alan Hellary, a former chief pilot for British private airline Laker Airways; following the collapse of Laker Airways in 1982, Field and Hellary decided to establish a new company, initially named British Atlantic Airways, as a successor. Reportedly, Fields had formed a concept for an airline that would operate between London and the Falkland Islands during June 1982, when the Falklands War had just finished. Seeking out expertise in the field, Fields got in contact with Hellary, who had already been considering options for establishing a regular commercial service to the Falklands. In turn, Hellary was in contact with several out-of-work colleagues from the collapse of Laker Airways; as such, the pair decided to refine their ambitions.
However, it was soon determined that the short runway at Port Stanley Airport, and the time it would take to improve it, would render a route to the Falklands commercially unviable, thus the idea of such a service was dropped. In its place, Hellary and Fields commenced efforts to secure a licence to operate a route Gatwick Airport, London and John F. Kennedy International Airport, New York City. During May 1983, a three-day inquiry was conducted, which chose to reject the application following objections from British Airways, British Caledonian and BAA.
Hellary and Fields then applied for a licence between Gatwick and Newark, New Jersey, using a 380-seat McDonnell Douglas DC-10. However, faced with the prospect of direct competition from rival operator PEOPLExpress, a post-deregulation "no frills" discount airline based at Newark, they decided to secure more funding before proceeding. Fields met British entrepreneur Richard Branson at a party in London during which he proposed a business partnership. After protracted and testy negotiations, Fields agreed to a reduced stake of 25% in the airline (which was renamed Virgin Atlantic) and became its first chairman. Following disagreements over operations, Fields agreed to be bought out for an initial sum of £1 million with further payment on Virgin's first dividend. As a result of a High Court action, this additional payment was received shortly before Fields' death in 1997.
On 22 June 1984, Virgin Atlantic operated its inaugural scheduled service, flown between Gatwick and Newark using a leased Boeing 747-200 (registration G-VIRG), christened Maiden Voyager, which had been formerly operated by Aerolíneas Argentinas. From the onset, its activities were augmented by leveraging existing Virgin Group resources, such as tickets being sold at Virgin Megastores record shops.
Part of Richard Branson's declared approach to business is to either succeed within the first year or exit the market; this ethos includes a one-year limit being expressed upon everything associated with starting up operations. Virgin Atlantic became profitable within the first 12 months, aided by sister company Virgin Records' ability to finance the lease of a secondhand Boeing 747. The firm had timed its operations to take advantage of a full summer, from June to September, which was typically the most profitable period of the year.
In 1986 the airline added another Boeing 747 to its fleet and started a scheduled route from Gatwick to Miami. Additional aircraft were quickly acquired and new routes launched from Gatwick, such as to New York JFK in 1988, Tokyo in 1989, Los Angeles in 1990, Boston in 1991, and Orlando in 1992. During 1987, Virgin Atlantic launched a service between Luton and Dublin using secondhand Viscount turboprop aircraft, but this route was withdrawn around 1990. During 1988, Club Air operated two Boeing 727 jet aircraft on behalf of Virgin; these served the Luton to Dublin route until about 1990.
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Before its inception, British Airways had been the only airline from the United Kingdom serving long-haul routes to destinations in North America, the Caribbean and the Far East since the BA-BCal merger in the late 1980s. In 1991, Virgin was given permission to operate from Heathrow following the abolition of the London Air Traffic Distribution Rules (TDRs) which had governed the distribution of traffic between Heathrow and Gatwick airports since 1978, primarily to bolster the profitability of Gatwick. Airlines without an international scheduled service from Heathrow prior to 1 April 1977 were obliged to operate from Gatwick. However, airlines that did not already operate at Heathrow were still able to begin domestic scheduled services there provided BAA, which ran both Heathrow and Gatwick on behalf of the UK government, and the Secretary of State for Transport granted permission.
The Civil Aviation Authority also transferred two pairs of unused landing slots that British Airways held at Tokyo's Narita Airport to Virgin to let it increase its frequency between Heathrow and Tokyo from four to six weekly round trips, making it easier for Virgin to compete against British Airways. The then-chairman of BA Lord King called the CAA's decision, which the government had endorsed, "a confiscation of his company's property".
In the year to October 1993, Virgin Atlantic declared a loss of £9.3m. The decision to abolish the London TDRs and to let Virgin Atlantic operate at Heathrow in competition with British Airways became the trigger for BA's so-called "dirty tricks" campaign against Virgin. During 1993, BA's public relations director, David Burnside, published an article in BA News, British Airways' internal magazine, which argued that Branson's protests against British Airways were a publicity stunt. Branson sued British Airways for libel, using the services of George Carman QC. BA settled out of court when its lawyers discovered the lengths to which the company had gone in trying to kill off Virgin. British Airways had to pay a legal bill of up to £3 million, damages to Branson of £500,000 and a further £110,000 to his airline. Branson reportedly donated the proceeds from the case to Virgin Atlantic staff.
During the 1990s, Virgin Atlantic jets were painted with "No Way BA/AA" as a declaration of its opposition to the attempted merger between British Airways and American Airlines. In 1997, following British Airways' announcement that it was to remove the Union Flag from its tailfins in favour of world images, Virgin introduced a Union Flag design on the winglets of its aircraft and changed the red dress on the Scarlet Lady on the nose of aircraft to the union flag with the tag line "Britain's Flag Carrier". This was a tongue-in-cheek challenge to BA's traditional role as the UK's flag carrier.
In June 2006, US and UK competition authorities investigated alleged price fixing between Virgin Atlantic and British Airways over passenger fuel surcharges. In August 2007, BA was fined £271 million by the UK Office of Fair Trading (OFT) and the US Department of Justice. However, the Chief Executive of Virgin Atlantic, Steve Ridgway, was forced to admit that the company had been a party to the agreement, had been aware of the price fixing and had taken no steps whatsoever to stop the price fixing. The company escaped a similar fine to that levied on British Airways only by virtue of the immunity it had earlier negotiated with the regulators.
In April 2010, a tip-off from Cathay Pacific led to the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) investigating alleged price fixing between Virgin Atlantic and Cathay Pacific on flights to Hong Kong between 2002 and 2006. Cathay Pacific received immunity from prosecution for reporting the alleged offence. A maximum fine, if found guilty, was 10% of turnover which based on the £2.5 billion in sales for the year to February 2009 would have been £250 million. At the time, the OFT stressed that it should not be assumed that the parties involved had broken the law. The OFT cleared both airlines in December 2012, concluding there were "no grounds for action".
In May 2014 Virgin Atlantic ended flights to Sydney. In September 2014 Virgin Atlantic announced plans to scrap flights to Tokyo, Mumbai, Vancouver and Cape Town, and to codeshare transatlantic flights with Delta Air Lines; the company was also reported to be considering axing its new Little Red domestic airline after suffering heavy losses. On 6 October 2014, Virgin Atlantic confirmed that Little Red services between London and Manchester would end in March 2015, and that the Scottish routes would be terminated in September 2015. Passengers used the routes from point to point as opposed to using it as a connection for longer haul Virgin Atlantic flights. The former BMI routes continued with rival airline British Airways.
In June 2015, Richard Branson admitted that Virgin Atlantic would be in "real trouble" without strategic support from Delta Air Lines. With cumulative losses between 2010 and 2013 amounting to £233 million, the future of the 30-year-old airline was in doubt. In the same month, the airline announced it would cut 500 jobs to establish a more efficient management structure.
In July 2017, Virgin Atlantic announced its intention to form a joint venture with Air France-KLM. Under the agreement, Air France-KLM will acquire a 31% stake in Virgin Atlantic currently held by Virgin Group for £220 million subject to execution of definitive agreements and receipt of final shareholder, board, and regulatory approvals. Virgin Atlantic would retain its independence as a UK airline with a UK operating certificate, and will continue to fly under the Virgin brand.
In late 2018, Virgin Atlantic were rated 83rd in the world in energy efficiency, behind many of their competitors.
Virgin Atlantic's head office, known as The VHQ, is located on a business park in Crawley, England, near Gatwick Airport and also houses the corporate offices of Virgin Holidays. The company operates several offices and call centres around the United Kingdom, including a large office in Swansea, Wales, which is a base for reservations and sales, baggage claims and tracing, 'live chat' web support and a customer relations department.
Virgin Group sold a 49% stake in the airline to Singapore Airlines in 1999 for £600 million. On 14 May 2008, Singapore Airlines formally announced an invitation for offers for its Virgin Atlantic stake, and publicly acknowledged that its stake in the airline had "underperformed".
In November 2010 it was reported that Virgin Atlantic had appointed Deutsche Bank to begin a strategic review of options for the airline following the tie-up between British Airways and American Airlines. By February 2011 it was confirmed that SkyTeam members Air France-KLM and Delta Air Lines had appointed Goldman Sachs to advise them on a joint potential approach for Virgin Atlantic. Etihad Airways was also reported to be considering a deal, and Willie Walsh, chief executive of International Airlines Group, stated that they would be interested in the airline, but only for the lucrative take-off and landing slots it holds at Heathrow Airport.
On 11 December 2012, Delta Air Lines confirmed the purchase of Singapore Airlines' 49% stake in Virgin Atlantic for £224 million, with plans to develop a transatlantic joint venture. Regulatory approval from the United States and European Union was granted on 20 June 2013, and the purchase was completed on 24 June. In December 2012, International Airlines Group CEO, Willie Walsh, suggested that the loss-making company would be history within five years. "I can't see Delta wanting to operate the Virgin brand because if they do what does that say about the Delta brand? I just don't see that the guy [Branson] has anything that stands out in terms of what he has achieved in the industry."
The key trends for Virgin Atlantic are shown below (from 2014 onwards, figures are for year ending December; earlier figures are for year ending February, and exclude Virgin Nigeria operations 20052008):
|Profit (EBT) (£m)||68.0||77.5||46.8||22.9||68.4||132.0||18.5||80.2||69.9||174.7||87.5||23.0||22.5|
|Number of employees (average monthly)||c.9,000||9,580||9,231||9,005||8,875|
|Number of passengers (m)||4.5||4.9||5.7||5.8||5.5||5.5||5.3||5.4||5.5||6.1||5.7||5.4||5.4|
|Passenger load factor (%)||74.3||72.8||76.5||76.9||78.9||82.5||77.5||78.1||77.4||79.3||76.8||78.7||78.7|
|Number of aircraft (at year end)||40||40||39||40||39|
Virgin Atlantic aircraft operate with a three-class cabin configuration: Economy, Premium (formerly Premium economy), and Upper Class - the business class product. Premium has a separate check-in area, priority boarding and a wider seat with more legroom. Upper Class features a seat that converts into a fully flat bed and access to chauffeur drive. Virgin Atlantic was the first airline to offer personal entertainment for all passengers in all classes.
The airline's frequent-flyer program is styled 'the Flying Club'.
Virgin Atlantic operates 10 lounges worldwide. It has nine 'Clubhouse' locations - London (Heathrow and Gatwick), New York-JFK, Newark, Boston, Washington D. C., San Francisco, Los Angeles and Johannesburg. It also maintains a Revivals arrival lounge in London Heathrow. They are accessible for passengers travelling in Upper Class and Flying Club Gold tier members.
British Midland International provided domestic and European feeder traffic into Heathrow Airport in partnership with Virgin until it was purchased by British Airways' parent company International Airlines Group in 2011. The Lufthansa-owned airline had faced heavy annual losses of more than £100 million. Under the terms of the takeover, IAG had to relinquish some former BMI domestic slots at Heathrow. Virgin Atlantic purchased enough slots in 2012 to enable it to launch a domestic service on 31 March 2013, under the Little Red brand, operating a total of 12 daily services from London to Aberdeen (three), Edinburgh (six), and Manchester (three). The airline wet-leased four Airbus Airbus A320-200s from Aer Lingus, operating with Virgin Atlantic livery, under a three-year contract.
In September 2014, it was reported that Virgin was considering closing its domestic brand after suffering heavy losses, with Civil Aviation Authority figures confirming an average seat occupancy level of just 37.6% in 2013. The 12 daily pairs of take-off and landing slots at Heathrow cannot be sold to be used for long-haul routes.
On 6 October 2014, Virgin confirmed that the Little Red service would cease; flights to Manchester ended on 28 March 2015 and flights to Edinburgh and Aberdeen ended on 26 September 2015.
On 13 April 2015, Virgin Atlantic incorporated a new subsidiary - Virgin Atlantic International Limited (VAIL). In November 2015, VAIL obtained its own Air Operators Certificate and Operating Licence, and commenced operations with two former Virgin Atlantic Airways Limited operated Airbus A330-300 aircraft taking over routes previously operated by Virgin Atlantic Limited between London Gatwick and Barbados, St Lucia, Antigua, Grenada and Tobago. These flights are operated on behalf of Virgin Atlantic.
Upon incorporation as an AOC holder, the majority of Virgin Atlantic's landing slots at London Heathrow Airport were transferred to VAIL, allowing Virgin to access the value of the carriers slots by 'mortgaging' them through open investment from capital markets, the first time in Europe a company has used airport take-off and landing slots to generate money in this way.
On 11 January 2019, Virgin Atlantic formed the Connect Airways consortium with Stobart Aviation, to make a takeover bid for Flybe. The deal would see the consortium combine Flybe and Stobart Air with Virgin Atlantic to create an integrated carrier operating under the Virgin Atlantic brand. Flybe and Stobart Air would however retain their own Air Operator Certificates. On 15 January 2019, Connect Airways announced an increased offer, which Flybe's board accepted; the deadline for the deal to close is 22 February 2019.
Virgin Atlantic uses a mixed fleet of Airbus and Boeing aircraft. All the Boeing 747-400s are based at Gatwick and Manchester and operate routes to Orlando, Las Vegas and the Caribbean (Gatwick only); Airbus A330-300s are also used on selected routes from Gatwick to the Caribbean. The Airbus A330-300s also operate from Manchester to New York-JFK, Boston, Atlanta and San Francisco. Glasgow and Belfast International Airport offer a seasonal route to Orlando using Boeing 747s. Airbus A330s, Airbus A340s and Boeing 787s are used interchangeably on routes from London Heathrow Airport. In August 2002, Virgin became the first airline to operate the Airbus A340-600.
On 27 September 2006, Branson announced plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by cutting aircraft weight and fuel consumption. There was also an experiment in 2007 in partnership with Boeing to have aircraft towed to the runway to save fuel, as a potential change to future operational procedures. Virgin also volunteered a Boeing 747 for a test of biofuels in February 2008. The aircraft flew without passengers from Heathrow to Amsterdam Airport Schiphol, with 20% of the power for one engine provided by plant-based biofuel. Virgin said that it expected to use algae-based biofuels in the future.
Virgin Atlantic took delivery of its first Boeing 787-9 in October 2014, becoming the first European airline to fly the variant. Virgin's order was first announced on 24 April 2007, and is for a total of 17 aircraft, with options on five more. The exercised options will replace the Heathrow-based 747 fleet during 2015 and 2016. Virgin Atlantic had also ordered six Airbus A380-800 aircraft, with options on a further six, delivery initially due in 2006. This order was officially cancelled in March 2018, with deposits transferred to A330 and A350 aircraft orders.
The older Airbus A340-300 aircraft were withdrawn from service in April 2015, as rising costs had made it less economical to run the type. Virgin had begun to replace the A340-300 on routes with the two-engine A330-300 and 787-9. The final Virgin Atlantic A340-300 flight was made on 9 April, landing at Heathrow early on 10 April. Eight A340-600s remain in service.
The airline's A330s, in three-class layout, have been stationed at Heathrow Airport since April 2012.
Sir Richard Branson announced in March 2016 that The Spaceship Company would partner with Boom Technology to develop supersonic jets capable of travelling between London and New York in three and a half hours. He confirmed that Virgin Atlantic had options on 10 of the aircraft.
In July 2016, Virgin Atlantic announced an order for 12 Airbus A350-1000 aircraft, to eventually replace the ageing four-engined Boeing 747-400 and Airbus A340-600 fleets. The order consists of eight aircraft which will be purchased directly from Airbus, with a further four acquired through leasing companies. It is expected that the 12 A350-1000s on order will be split into two separate configurations, a business-oriented, premium heavy configuration, and leisure-oriented, economy heavy configuration for select routes to the Caribbean, Las Vegas, and Orlando, Florida. The first aircraft is scheduled to be delivered in 2019, with the Rolls-Royce XWB engine selected (the only available option for the Airbus A350 line-up). This order will leave Virgin with a streamlined fleet of Airbus A330s, A350s and Boeing 787 aircraft, leaving just two pilot pools and increasing cost efficiencies.
Due to engine fan-blade corrosion issues with Virgin's fleet of Boeing 787 aircraft, Virgin Atlantic has chosen to move some of its Manchester-based Boeing 747 and Airbus A330 aircraft to cover routes out of London Heathrow. In 2016, A spokesman for Rolls Royce which manufacturers the Trent 1000s said the company "would start producing new corrosion-resistant fan blades by the start of 2017". Virgin Atlantic has had to temporarily park some of its 787s while they wait for attention. In place of these aircraft Virgin Atlantic has chosen to lease four former Air Berlin A330-200 aircraft, which will be based in Manchester. The A330-200 aircraft will arrive from 2018, with full Virgin Atlantic liveries, but with former Air Berlin cabin products, with Virgin Atlantics Premium Economy to be retrofitted at a later date. Virgin Atlantic said it would add "resilience" to its fleet after the engine issues with its 787s. It is thought these aircraft will be on initial 12 month leases, to allow Virgin to assess their viability in the fleet, with the possibility of extending the leases further. The airline has also chosen to reinstate a former A340-600 aircraft G-VNAP into the fleet from storage, after purchase from its lessor, to cover for one A340 aircraft leaving the fleet, for which the lease was unable to be extended.
On 4 May 2018 The VS Source reported the return of a further A340-600, G-VWIN aircraft to the fleet, following previous retirement in March 2018. It is thought that this is also to cover for downtime of Virgin's Boeing 787 fleet, but will also allow leverage for the leased A330-200 sub-fleet to provide growth opportunities, opening up lower-demand routes. The two returned A340-600 aircraft, G-VNAP and G-VWIN were previously leased, but are now owned outright by Virgin Atlantic.
Virgin Atlantic's fleet is operated by Virgin Atlantic Airways Ltd and Virgin Atlantic International Limited.
|Airbus A340-600||7||—||45||38||225||308||Launch customer.|
To be replaced by Airbus A350-1000.
|Airbus A350-1000||—||12||44||56||235||335||Deliveries starting in 2019.|
Replacing Airbus A340-600 and Boeing 747-400 aircraft.
|Boeing 747-400||8||—||14||66||375||455||To be replaced by Airbus A350-1000.|
|Airbus A320-200||1995||2000||1 leased for a London to Athens service, replaced by an A321-200 in 2000|||
|1999||2001||3 operated for Virgin Sun|
|Airbus A321-200||2000||2003||1 named Hellenic Beauty leased for a London to Athens service to replace an A320-200|||
|2000||2001||1 operated for Virgin Sun|
|Airbus A340-300||1993||2015||Last commercial flight 9 April 2015|
|Airbus A380||Never Delivered||Orders cancelled in 2018|
|Boeing 747-100||1990||2000||G-VMIA named Spirit of Sir Freddie after Sir Freddie Laker|
|Boeing 747-200||1984||2005||G-VIRG was Virgin Atlantic's first aircraft|
Virgin's first aircraft were painted with a "Eurowhite" design with a red stripe through the centre of the main deck windows. The engines were metallic silver and the tail red with the Virgin logo in white. In the 1990s, the refreshed design was introduced, removing the centre red stripe through the windows, engines were painted red, the Virgin Atlantic titles in grey were added along the main fuselage, and the 'Flying Lady' was introduced to the nose area.
In October 2006, with the delivery of G-VRED, Virgin introduced a new design, with the fuselage painted in metallic silver and a revised tail fin, with red and purple features and the Virgin logo. Near the nose of each aircraft is a pin-up girl, the "Scarlet Lady", carrying a Union flag, which was designed by British artist Ken White, who modelled the motif on the World War II pin-ups of Alberto Vargas hence the naming one of the fleet Varga Girl (in this case, an A340-600 registered G-VGAS).
Each aircraft has a name, usually feminine, such as Ladybird, Island Lady, and Ruby Tuesday, but some are linked to registrations (e.g. G-VFIZ became Bubbles). A couple are commemorative names (e.g. G-VEILQueen of the Skieswhich was named by Queen Elizabeth II on 7 April 2004, marking the centenary of the Entente Cordiale; this frame exited the fleet in April 2016). An exception is Spirit of Sir Freddie. An early Boeing 747, it was named in honour of Freddie Laker of Laker Airways, who helped Virgin Atlantic following the demise of his own airline. G-VFABLady Penelopegained a special livery to celebrate Virgin Atlantic's 21st birthday. G-VFAB, Lady Penelope, exited the fleet in September 2016 after 21 years of service and was subsequently parted out.
The current livery dates from 2010 and returns to the "Eurowhite" design featuring purple billboard titles on the fuselage, slight changes to the Scarlet Lady, and new red metallic paint for the aircraft's tail and engines. On aircraft that have winglets, the wingtips are red, with the Virgin logo on the inside facing passengers on board. The Virgin Atlantic logo was also added in purple billboard titles to the underside of the aircraft. The former livery with black billboard titles and flying lady still remain on some older aircraft.
Five A340s will be sold, two to be stored.
Media related to Virgin Atlantic at Wikimedia Commons