Virgin Atlantic is to scrap its domestic UK short-haul operation, Little Red, in September next year after it proved unprofitable.
Little Red has been serving Manchester, Edinburgh and Aberdeen from London Heathrow but the carrier’s load factors have consistently been poor.
Over the first year its launch in March 2013 the carrier was achieving peak loads only in the mid-40s, as it struggled against the domestic presence of British Airways.
Virgin Atlantic chief Craig Kreeger says the “time lag” between BA’s acquisition of BMI – which created the opportunity to launch Little Red – and the first flights meant that the new airline “faced an uphill battle” to convert customers.
He adds that the number of slots made available to Little Red was “totally inadequate” to challenge the might of BA.
“While this challenged environment meant Little Red ultimately did not deliver the results we had hoped, this certainly will not dampen our enthusiasm to try new things in the future,” says Kreeger.
Little Red used a small fleet of Airbus A320s from Aer Lingus to operate its routes. The Manchester service will be closed in March 2015 while the two Scottish routes will be continued until September 2015.
Virgin Atlantic says the demand for Little Red services has been mainly from point-to-point rather than connecting passengers – whereas the company had hoped for a high level of connections to Virgin Atlantic’s long-haul network.
Although Virgin Atlantic is “on track” to return to profit by the end of this year, the company says, Little Red has “not been able to make a positive contribution”.
Virgin Atlantic president Sir Richard Branson says the “odds were stacked against us” and the carrier failed to attract sufficient corporate custom. But the long-haul operation is intending to recruit a number of cabin crew from Little Red once the airline closes.