Virgin Atlantic (VS, London Heathrow) is hoping to secure more slots at London Heathrow to launch more routes as it rebuilds its fleet, Chief Executive Shai Weiss told Bloomberg.

He disclosed the airline was contemplating destinations where it could connect with partner airlines. Potential new routes to the United States, Virgin Atlantic's main market alongside the Caribbean, would likely focus on hub cities for Delta Air Lines, Virgin Atlantic's 49% shareholder. The airline is also evaluating expanding its India connectivity, building on the recently inked code-share deal with low-cost carrier IndiGo Airlines (6E, Delhi International). Virgin Atlantic is currently in the process of joining Skyteam and is also studying flights to Seoul Incheon, the hub for alliance partner Korean Air (KE, Seoul Incheon).

Data from coordinator ACL-UK shows that Virgin Atlantic holds 8,192 slots at Heathrow for the current winter season, second only to British Airways (BA, London Heathrow). The airline has a 6% market share by weekly scheduled departure capacity and operates flights to 25 destinations, including 12 in the United States and a further five in the Caribbean, the ch-aviation schedules module highlights.

Weiss said Virgin would remain focused on its Heathrow hub, with no plans to restart operations from London Gatwick - suspended during the COVID-19 pandemic - until 2024 at the earliest. Despite this, the airline hopes to hold on to its slots at London's second-largest gateway as a backup plan if it is unable to secure more slots at Heathrow.

Under the current regulatory framework, airlines that fail to use at least one slot at a British airport at least 70% of the time during one scheduling season, lose it for the same season of the next year. As such, without any operations at Gatwick this winter season, Virgin Atlantic will lose the slots for the Winter 2023/24 season and would have to reapply for new authorisations. It holds 1,176 slots for the current winter season at Gatwick, making it the thirteenth-largest slot holder at the airport.

The network growth will be underscored by Virgin Atlantic's growing fleet. The carrier recently inducted its first A330-900 and has 15 more of the type on order. It also operates nine A330-300s, which are due to be replaced by the -900s, as well as nine A350-1000s and seventeen B787-9s, the ch-aviation fleets advanced module shows. The airline plans to return to its pre-COVID total fleet capacity in 2025, but due to improved utilisation and flexibility, it expects to then ply 20% more flights in comparison to 2019.