Virgin’s Asian agenda

Asia is of growing importance to Virgin Altantic, which is expanding capacity and opening its own sales offices in the region. Peter Conway reports.

Though it has had routes to Asiasince its earliest days, Virgin Atlantic,the UK’s second long-haul carrier, isnot inappropriately named. Even todaythe airline moves two thirds of itscargo tonnage on transatlantic routes– 62.6 percent of it in the ten monthsto January, to be precise.

However, that share has decreasedsince 9/11, before which over 70 percentof tonnage was trans-Altantic, anda major beneficiary has been Asia. 29.4percent of tonnage came from Asianroutes in the ten months to January.

The carrier’s longstanding Asianroutes are Hong Kong, Tokyo, Delhiand Shanghai: it famously won passengerrights to the latter destinationahead of its rival British Airways andfor a number of years had exclusivityon the route.

More recently, in 2004 it extendedits Hong Kong flights to Sydney, andin 2005, it launched flights to Mumbai,under a new liberalised bilateralbetween India and the UK. Virgin’scharismatic founder and chairman RichardBranson has made no secret ofhis ambition for more routes to Indiawhen traffic rights permit.

In April 2006, the carrier also addedDubai to the network, and John Lloyd,Virgin’s director of cargo, says a seconddaily flight to Hong Kong is being discussed,though no firm decision hasyet been taken.

Meanwhile, Asian routes have beenbenefiting from increased capacity asVirgin replaces A340-300s with higherpayload A340-600s. It took deliveryof three of the aircraft in 2006 andused them to convertShanghai, Tokyo andDelhi to –600 service,increasing cargo capacityfrom 12-14 tonnes to asmuch as 25 tonnes. AllAsian routes apart fromMumbai are now servedwith the higher capacityaircraft.