Virgin Atlantic Airways is vowing to maintain its vocal opposition to International Airlines Group's takeover of BMI despite the formal completion of the controversial deal, which leaves IAG subsidiary British Airways with more than half the take-off and landing slots at congested London Heathrow airport.
"It's always hard in these situations, but we've never shied away from these things, and we won't in this case either," said Virgin Atlantic chief executive Steve Ridgway, speaking earlier today at an event to mark the Boeing 787's visit to London Heathrow airport as part of the twinjet's global 'Dream Tour'.
"The regulator should have done a better job," he says, referring to the sale of heavily loss-making BMI by Lufthansa to arch-rival BA's parent company.
Ridgway says Virgin Atlantic will bid for "remedy routes" - flown using some of the 14 daily Heathrow slot pairs IAG is being forced to surrender as part of its BMI takeover - to ensure that key UK domestic feeder services are maintained. If Virgin is successful in its bid, these would be operated by aircraft "in Virgin Atlantic livery" but not necessarily flown by the longhaul carrier itself, says Ridgway. "Clearly we will have a very strong case there," he argues.
In addition, Ridgway says there are "obligations on BA to provide interline fares".
Virgin Atlantic has 16 787-9s on firm order, for delivery from mid-2014. They will be used to replace Airbus A340-300s and some larger A340-600s, says Ridgway, as well as providing for growth, primarily on routes to the Far East but also to leisure destinations such as Florida, Las Vegas and the Caribbean. The airline will operate some of the twinjets in a "leisure configuration".