AIRLINE ANALYSTS have greeted with scepticism the declaration by Virgin Atlantic Airways that it plans to lease or buy up to $5 billion-worth of aircraft within the next three years in a bid to become one of the world's leading long-haul carriers.

The airline has announced plans to add some 18 long-haul destinations and build a 40-strong fleet of wide body aircraft, but analysts doubt that a three-year time scale is realistic, given the slot constraints at Virgin's base in London Heathrow.

Such difficulties long delayed the start-up of services to South Africa, although these are now due to begin in 1996, building up to a full daily service by the end of the year. A daily Washington service is scheduled, to start early in the new year.

Source: Flight International