The Virgin group and FlyBe have officially announced Virgin Connect today. This comes after the buyout of struggling UK regional airline FlyBe earlier in 2019.
Taking over from the former FlyBe, Virgin Connect will initially run the former FlyBe schedules and utilise the former FlyBe fleet.
Virgin Connect CEO, Mark Anderson said:
We are hugely excited by this milestone in our airline’s 40-year history. We will remain true to our heritage and reason for being, which is offering essential regional connectivity to local communities.
At its heart, Virgin Connect will be passionately focused on becoming Europe’s most loved and successful regional airline. It will offer travel that is simple and convenient with the personal touch. Our customers will naturally expect the same exceptional travel experience as they do with other Virgin-related brands. Whatever their reason for flying, we want our customers to feel loved and know we will always put their needs first in every decision we take.
As part of the Virgin family, we now have a tremendously re-energised team. From here on in, we invite our customers, partners and the communities we serve to join us on every step of this exciting journey!
Previously, Virgin Atlantic announced an extremely ambitious growth strategy. It can only be assumed that the European flights that were mentioned in this update are to be operated by Virgin Connect.
Didn’t the Virgin Group do shorthaul before?
Yes. On more than one occasion.
Virgin Atlantic ran flights between London and Athens during the 1990’s using a dedicated Airbus A320, and then later A321 aircraft. However, after 9/11 this was one of the first routes to be canned.
During the late 90’s, there was also Virgin Sun, a charter airline operating from London Gatwick, Manchester and other UK airports to holiday destinations across Europe. Virgin Sun operated three Airbus A320 aircraft and a single A321 in a bright yellow livery with the traditional Virgin tail. Less than two years after commencing services, the airline announced it was to close. By the end of 2001, the airline was gone.
Also under the Virgin banner was Virgin Express. Founded as EuroBelgian Airlines, the airline was bought by Richard Branson and rebranded in 1996. At its peak, Virgin Express operated a fleet of 26 Boeing 737 aircraft from its Brussels hub. Virgin Express was merged into Brussels Airlines in 2008.
And finally, there was Little Red. Launched in early 2013 as a result of the takeover of British Midland by British Airways, the airline once more came in with big ideas that failed to live up to expectations. Utilising a fleet of four Airbus A320 aircraft that were all leased from Aer Lingus, Little Red operated between London Heathrow and Manchester, Edinburgh and Aberdeen. By the end of 2015, once more, the short haul airline had gone.
Virgin Atlantic also operated Vickers Viscount services from Luton to The Netherlands in the 1980’s.
Will Virgin Connect be different?
Who knows! Despite the less than brilliant history on short haul, Virgin Atlantic wouldnt be spending the money if it didn’t think it would get a good return on the investment.
It’s worth remembering that Virgin Atlantic only have a 30% stake in Virgin Connect. One of the other shareholders, Stobart Air have had a fairly good record operating for FlyBe and Aer Lingus.
The majority stakeholder, Cyrus Capital successfully worked with the Virgin Group when setting up US based Virgin America.
Its also worth noting that this is essentially a rebrand of FlyBe. Rather than being a totally new airline, Virgin Connect will operate under the existing FlyBe operating certificate. Stobart Air will also maintain a seperate operating certificate and continue to lease aircraft to Aer Lingus and BA Cityflyer.