Virgin Atlantic May Add China, South America Flights

Virgin Atlantic May Add China Flights Using Slots Ceded by IAG
The Virgin Atlantic Airways Ltd. check-in area is seen at Heathrow airport, operated by BAA Ltd., in London. Photographer: Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg

Virgin Atlantic Airways Ltd., the U.K.’s number two long-haul carrier, may add more flights to China and South America.

The airline has wanted to start flights to Beijing “for quite some time” and it is also looking at other cities in China, Chief Executive Officer Steve Ridgway said in an interview today in Shanghai. He didn’t name any specific South American destinations.

Virgin also expects to hear by year-end how many takeoff and landing slots it will get at Heathrow, Europe’s busiest airport, following International Consolidated Airlines Group SA’s acquisition of BMI in April. The carrier has asked for 12 of the slots that IAG, the parent of British Airways, was ordered to give up as a condition for approval of the BMI deal.

“These slots are very important,” Ridgway said in a Bloomberg TV interview. “It’s tough because Heathrow is very full.” The carrier, which has also applied to start flights to Scotland, holds 3 percent of Heathrow’s takeoff and landing pairs compared with IAG’s 51 percent.

The start of Beijing flights will depend on the availability of Heathrow slots and the arrival of Boeing Co. 787s that would be used on the route, Ridgway said. Virgin expects to start receiving its 16 on-order 787s in the second half of 2014. The carrier already flies to Shanghai and Hong Kong in Greater China.

Virgin may also “one day” join one of the three global airline alliances, Ridgway said. The airline last year began a review of strategic options after British Airways and American Airlines boosted cooperation on trans-Atlantic routes.

(Corrects to remove erroneous reference to slots from IAG in headline, first and fifth paragraph of story published on June 13.)
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