VIRGIN has denied that its decision to launch the group’s first short-haul flight between London and Manchester is an attack on FirstGroup after the company lost the West Coast rail franchise to its London-listed rival, writes Ben Griffiths.

Sir Richard Branson’s airline plans to begin flying the route from March 2013 in direct competition to British Airways’ services.

A Virgin Atlantic spokesman said: ‘Our new service will provide strong competition to omnipresent BA, keep fares low and give consumers a genuine choice of airline to fly to Heathrow and beyond.’

Last week Virgin Rail was told it had been outbid by FirstGroup for the West Coast operation. FirstGroup already runs London commuter services via First Capital Connect and trains to Cornwall and the West Country.

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