The Business Travel Association (The Business Travel Association - formerly the GTMC, the major UK-based association representing TMCs) has come out in favour of a campaign for Virgin Atlantic to become a ‘second flag carrier’ at an expanded Heathrow airport.
The airline announced in September that it hopes to launch an additional 84 routes from the busy London hub – so long as it has the chance to bid for a larger number of take-off and landing slots that will become available with the opening of a third runway.
CEO Shai Weiss said the aim of its campaign is to become a second flag carrier for the UK in an effort to challenge the “monopoly” currently held by British Airways owner International Airlines Group (International Airlines Group - the parent company of British Airways and Spain's Iberia which was created by the merger of the two carriers in 2010) – which currently holds more than 55 per cent of slots at Heathrow.
The plan is now officially backed by the The Business Travel Association - formerly the GTMC, the major UK-based association representing TMCs, with chief executive Clive Wratten commenting: “We recognise and support the benefits a second flag carrier would bring to the UK economy – not only the increase in competition but also the expansion of new routes from Heathrow, a hub that is seeing, albeit slowly, its plans for extension draw nearer.
“As and when the ambition for airport expansion is realised, the need to fulfil the additional slots presents an opportunity to carriers and the corporate travel sector. Which is why we are backing Virgin Atlantic’s campaign to gather support from the public in a bid to become recognised as the nation’s second flag carrier.
“Allowing significant slot access at Heathrow to a second British airline should be greeted by all airlines, travel management companies and corporate travellers with enthusiasm, as it presents a very real opportunity to access potential new markets further afield whilst at the same time benefiting from competitive fares.”
Virgin Atlantic is also reportedly eyeing a secondary hub at Manchester, where it recently opened a new Clubhouse and a refurbished Virgin Holidays V-Room, as well as increased capacity on flights from the airport to JFK and Barbados.
The carrier is part of Connect Airways along with Stobart Group and Cyrus Capital, which acquired regional airline Flybe and will rebrand it to Virgin Connect from January 2020.