Virgin links long-haul expansion to new Heathrow runway

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There are numerous “economically possible” long-haul routes Virgin Atlantic could open from London Heathrow if additional capacity in the form of a new runway was provided, its chief executive Craig Kreeger says.

Asked during the RunwaysUK conference in London on 16 January whether Virgin was constrained by a lack of capacity at the hub airport, Kreeger responded: “Both our fleet and our network have been built in recognition of the capacity that is out there.

“I think to some extent we are – I think there are a number of routes that could be economically possible with the right aircraft. We are taking economically efficient [Boeing] 787s later this year to places like Latin America, additional services into Asia and frankly additional services in the US remain possible,” he says.

“I think there can be a number of opportunities, none of which I am prepared to detail.”

Flightglobal’s Ascend Online database shows Virgin Atlantic has 15 787-9s on order, plus eight options.

Outlining where he thought extra capacity was needed in London, Kreeger comes down on the side of connectivity and says that as a major international hub Heathrow must be given priority for expansion: “It’s no secret that one of the main things that attracted one of our main shareholders and venture partners, Delta, to our company was our presence at Heathrow. That hub has been capacity constrained for decades.

"What I’m often asked is what are the benefits of a hub? Why do we care about connecting customers? I think it’s important to recognise that, I talk about Amsterdam a lot because I think the Netherlands has managed to create a really impressive economic engine out of a relativity small economy by virtue of creating demand through greater and greater connectivity.

“Many of the same cities that are served by London are served by Amsterdam despite the fact that that city is probably one-fifth, one-eighth, I lose count, of that power.”

Kreeger added that the Airports Commission now needs to create political consensus and public backing for its final choice of where to expand airport capacity.