Seen by most as being the UK’s second national carrier, Virgin Atlantic Airways has never had a full freighter aircraft in their fleet, but during the past decade have placed more emphasis on the transport of air cargo in their long-haul passenger aircraft. The Virgin Atlantic Cargo department has made a name for itself in the air cargo industry as being a reliable and quality driven product. This positive reputation is likely to be reinforced by the use of cargo-friendly Airbus A350 aircraft.
Had to play second fiddle to BA
Founded in 1984 by British entrepreneur Richard Branson, Virgin Atlantic fast became a serious competitor to British Airways. The first flight was operated in June 1984 on the London Gatwick to Newark, New York route. During the 1990’s there was quite a fight between Virgin and British Airways when Virgins’ owner Richard Branson went all out to try and disrupt the then planned merger of British Airways and American Airlines. Branson’s famous slogan which went around the world was “No way BA/AA.” Since then both carriers have never really been friends and compete strongly on many common routes.
In the meantime, Virgin Atlantic is 49 percent owned by Atlanta, Georgia-based Delta Airlines. Both carriers cooperate closely on both passenger and cargo operations and sales. The Delta connection has proven to be also very beneficial for Virgin in promoting and enhancing their air cargo product.
Fleet renewal is good for cargo
The carrier is in the middle of a fleet renewal programme which will see the aging B747-400 and Airbus A340 / A330 passenger aircraft being phased out by latest 2021. The fleet revamping has seen the introduction of seventeen Boeing 787 aircraft being brought into operation. These twin-engine aircraft offer better range and very good belly capacity for air cargo. Virgin also operates aging Airbus A330 aircraft which will be replaced in the near future by the newer longer-range Airbus A330-900neo. Fourteen are on firm order with a further six on option.
However, for the company’s cargo product, it seems that the Airbus A350-1000 is the aircraft on which Virgin Atlantic Cargo sees the best future potential for the department.
The airline has so far taken delivery of three of a total of twelve ordered A350s. The fourth aircraft is expected by December of this year with the remaining eight following in 2020-2021. The A350-1000 will according to Virgin Cargo’s management give the carrier an average payload of almost 30 tons on the London to New York sector alone. The new A350 recently broke Virgin Cargo’s internal record by transporting a 36.7 tons load on the route which was followed a few days later by 41 tons flown on one flight.
Virgin Cargo’s Managing Director, Dominic Kennedy, sees great cargo potential on the A350s also on heavy cargo routes such as London to Johannesburg as well as London to Los Angeles. He recently stated that: “when we placed our order for the A350-1000 we knew it was going to be an outstanding addition to our fleet in terms of both passenger experience and its cargo potential.”
Recently Virgin Atlantic has increased the number of weekly frequencies from London to India and San Francisco and has firm plans to introduce the A350 onto the Los Angeles, San Francisco, Johannesburg and Lagos routes - giving cargo customers more capacity to and from these destinations.
Watch out BA!
John Mc Donagh
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