Virgin Atlantic set to fly between London and Manchester


Virgin Atlantic is set to launch its first domestic service, flying passengers between London and Manchester.

Chief executive Steve Ridgway said the move was in response to the takeover of bmi by British Airways' parent company rather than Virgin Trains' loss of the rail service between the two cities.

Flights between Heathrow and the North West will begin next spring using leased aircraft, Mr Ridgway said.

"Since bmi was swallowed up by British Airways, the competition that existed on domestic routes and European routes has disappeared," he said.

"Virgin Atlantic has obviously provided great competition over the years internationally on the long-haul routes and this is about redressing that as part of the process of making sure that BA doesn't become a monopolist on all the routes bmi used to fly."

Mr Ridgway insisted that air travel was a "different market" from rail services between Manchester and London.

"With bmi disappearing off Manchester-London Heathrow, 650,000 passengers from Manchester that fly to Heathrow and then on to the rest of the world, to keep Manchester connected with the rest of the world, only have one choice now and that's why Virgin Atlantic is responding to make sure that competition is preserved," he told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme.

"There obviously will be some people who are flying direct to London to do business, but this is particularly about keeping Manchester and the North West connected with the rest of the world."

The airline will operate three daily flights to Manchester using Airbus A319 aircraft from March 31 next year, the BBC reported.

Around 650,000 passengers travel between London and Manchester each year.

Virgin already flies from Manchester to Barbados and Las Vegas and to Orlando in Florida.

Manchester Airports Group chief commercial officer Ken O'Toole said today: "We are pleased to see Virgin Atlantic increasing their presence in Manchester and to see competition returning on the London route, as that will be to the benefit of passengers flying from our airport."

Tickets for the new London-Manchester service went on sale today.