Virgin Atlantic Airways Ltd. plans to use the purchase of UK regional carrier Flybe Group Plc for further takeovers of British operators so it can feed more passengers onto its long-haul flights.
The carrier, founded by billionaire Richard Branson, would like to use Flybe to roll up more airlines into an expanded short-haul business as part of a plan to double the number of intercontinental services from its London Heathrow hub, Chief Executive Officer Shai Weiss said in a Bloomberg TV interview on Monday.
“I’m talking about the consolidation of smaller operators in the short-haul market under the banner of ‘Virgin something’ to provide more feed,” Weiss said at the Paris Air Show, where his company placed an order for as many as 14 Airbus SE A330neo wide-body planes worth $4.15 billion at list prices.
Several smaller UK carriers have gone bust in recent years, with Scottish operator Loganair and Flybe affiliate Eastern Airways among those that remain. Weiss said he’s still working on plans to bring Flybe under the Virgin brand once the takeover wins regulatory approval.
Virgin Atlantic is continuing to look at the UK airline operation of Thomas Cook Group Plc, which the ailing UK tour operator has put up for sale.
The airline is preparing for the opening of a planned third runway at Heathrow in 2026. That would require about 30 more wide-body planes and three or four times that number of feeder routes, Weiss said.
Virgin is buying eight A330neos outright and taking six more from Air Lease Corp. to replace the same number of older A330 “classic” aircraft. It also has options to buy six further planes, which would allow for route expansion.
The purchase of Exeter, England-based Flybe is being done with Cyrus Capital, as well as airport and regional-aircraft operator Stobart Group Ltd. Flybe has flights from more than a dozen British cities as well as smaller centers, and European destinations spanning Portugal to Poland.
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