Virgin Atlantic unveils second wave of domestic flights

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Virgin Atlantic Airways has fleshed out further details of its upcoming entry into the UK domestic market, confirming plans to operate "multiple daily flights" from London Heathrow airport to two Scottish cities.

The airline had previously announced that flights from Manchester to Heathrow will begin on 31 March 2013, becoming its first domestic feeder service.

In the "second stage" of its domestic expansion, Virgin will add new Heathrow services to Edinburgh and Aberdeen. International Airlines Group (IAG), the parent company of rival British Airways, currently has a monopoly on both routes following its acquisition of BMI.

"At least 1.8 million Scottish passengers, equivalent to a third of the population, have been left without a choice on these routes since IAG's takeover of BMI," says outgoing Virgin chief executive Steve Ridgway, who will leave the company next spring.

"As a monopoly operator, BA has the opportunity, the incentive and the means to increase fares and reduce the number of flights available."

BA is reducing Heathrow-Aberdeen flights by almost one-third and Heathrow-Edinburgh flights by one-quarter when compared with the number of combined services previously operated by the flag carrier and its one-time rival BMI, Virgin claims.

Ridgway had earlier acknowledged that Scottish routes will likely form the backbone of its upcoming domestic operations - to be served by leased Airbus A319s.

IAG has been forced to relinquish 14 slot pairs at Heathrow in order to trim its market share at the hub following the BMI acquisition. Competition RX, the company monitoring the slot auction, says at least seven of those slots must be used for Edinburgh or Aberdeen flights.

Virgin is bidding for 12 of the slots, with the remaining two earmarked for Transaero's Moscow route. Tickets for Manchester went on sale last month and Virgin says the route will be operated irrespective of how many slots it ultimately secures.

However, no such assurance has been given for flights to Edinburgh, Aberdeen or Moscow - also tentatively announced by Virgin - and with tickets yet to go on sale it appears that all three routes are predicated on its success in the slot auction.

Irish flag carrier Aer Lingus is also believed to be involved in the auction process. The successful bidders are due to be announced in December.