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Virgin Atlantic making 3,150 redundant, leaving Gatwick and scrapping its Boeing 747 fleet

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Virgin Atlantic has announced it will be permanently retiring its Boeing 747-400 fleet with immediate effect, leaving London Gatwick and making 3,150 staff redundant.

This is part of the strategy to reduce costs as the airline comes to terms with the impact of coronavirus.  This is not an alternative to a bailout loan and more likely an attempt to show that it is ‘getting its house in order’ – Virgin Atlantic is still in talks with “several stakeholders” including the government.

The airline expects to reinstate 60% of its pre-pandemic capacity by the end of the year although this is obviously just a finger-in-the-air number at the moment.

Virgin Atlantic 747

Virgin Atlantic is culling its Boeing 747 fleet

Until today, Virgin Atlantic had seven Boeing 747 aircraft in its fleet with an average age of 20 years.  Ditching these aircraft now is the obvious thing to do, not least because they are getting long in the tooth.  The Boeing 747 fleet was due to be replaced in any event by the new A350 fleet of which four have already arrived since last September.  The remaining eight, half of which were designed for leisure routes with a different configuration, are yet to be delivered – Virgin did not say today whether it still expects this to happen.

Dropping the Boeing 747 fleet also makes sense from a fuel efficiency perspective. The trend in recent years has been to move away from thirsty four-engined aircraft towards twin-engine aircraft. With additional weight savings from its carbon fibre fuselage and improved aerodynamics, the A350 is around 50% more efficient than a Boeing 747.

In the medium term, Virgin Atlantic will be retiring four A330-200s by 2022 as previously planned. These are the ex-Air Berlin planes that were introduced in 2018 to help Virgin cope with its troublesome Boeing 787 fleet and were only on a short lease.  These are likely to be replaced by A330neos which are due to arrive in 2021, although given the circumstances this is likely to slip.

Virgin Atlantic withdrawing from Gatwick

In addition to rationalising its fleet plans, Virgin Atlantic is also withdrawing from London Gatwick.  It will be moving all London flights to Heathrow whilst retaining its slot portfolio at Gatwick so that it has the opportunity to return in the future.

As well as being a cost saving measure, reducing duplicated overheads, it will also ensure that Virgin Atlantic protects all of its Heathrow slots for the future.

Quite how it will manage to retain the Gatwick slots is a different question. There is a ‘use it or lose it’ rule in place for take-off and landing slots that require at least 80% use. Whilst this has been suspended until October, it is not clear how Virgin Atlantic will fulfil the requirements beyond then.

In normal circumstances it may have been able to lease them out to another airline, but with most companies cutting capacity there is likely to be a glut of slots available.  It is possible that it may end up subsidising a smaller operator to pick up the slack.

The Gatwick routes were primarily leisure focused, such as Antigua, Barbados, Havana, Montego Bay, Orlando and St Lucia.  There were also plans to launch a Gatwick to New York service this Summer, with Delta also due to launch Gatwick to Boston.

The Manchester operation will remain.  Glasgow was not mentioned.

3,000 redundancies announced

As you would expect, closing the Gatwick base will affect a lot of Virgin staff. The airline has is seeking 3,000 redundancies, representing a third of its workforce.  These will be made across the board, although many are likely to occur at Gatwick.

Finally – and slightly oddly, given that it is hardly a top priority – Virgin Holidays will be rebranded as Virgin Atlantic Holidays.  15% of the current shops will be closed.

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How to earn Virgin Points from UK credit cards (May 2024)

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You can choose from two official Virgin Atlantic credit cards (apply here, the Reward+ card has a bonus of 18,000 Virgin Points and the free card has a bonus of 3,000 Virgin Points):

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Click here to read our detailed summary of all UK credit cards which earn Virgin Points

(Want to earn more Virgin Points?  Click here to see our recent articles on Virgin Atlantic and Flying Club and click here for our home page with the latest news on earning and spending other airline and hotel points.)

Comments (100)

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  • Riccatti says:

    A word here was for VS to consolidate at Gatwick — but if leisure routes to Caribbean destinations become abandoned, despite being profitable in the past…

    An opportunity to close Gatwick terminal-by-terminal and make it a modern airport. But that would require a VERY long-term infrastructure investment, usually implemented with funds from Chinese companies..

    • NigelthePensioner says:

      An opportunity to close Gatwick terminal-by-terminal……You missed out the period!!
      Makes the extra runway at LGW fanbase look a bit silly now, as when the chips are down the airlines choose LHR.
      LGW did however take the Summer strain off LHR – for those who had the fortitude to travel the extra hour on the M25 past LHR to get to the wretched place………so, one advantage of living in West Sussex!

      • Andrew says:

        Not really silly. At a time of decreasing demand would you choose to keep your largest or second largest market open? Conversely at a time of increasing demand it makes sense to expand your second largest market if it can be done quicker and cheaper than your primary.

      • Callum says:

        Except it doesn’t, because no-one has ever claimed that airlines would choose Gatwick above Heathrow… That’s completely nonsensical – how on Earth would Heathrow be able to charge higher fees than Gatwick if that was the case?

        The argument has always been that Heathrow is full and they believe it will be more practical to expand Gatwick than Heathrow. Given air traffic is eventually going to get to pre-virus levels again, the same argument still applies.

  • NigelthePensioner says:

    I wonder if long haul (lets call it World Wide) RFS’s will become available for premium seats WT+ then Club……….in order to drum up a bit of business post C19? That would be a way to get a start on using a very large stockpile of free Avios – never being a buyer of coupons.

  • Melonfarmer says:

    It’s sad when employees become pawns in an elaborate game with the govt.

    Owen Jones described this situation in “The Establishment” where Vodafone’s reasoning for not paying (what the general public perceived to be) their “fair share” of corporation tax was that their large number of employees paid income tax & NI, & the company paid employers NI (unlike, say the BBC – see IR35).

    There goes a third of that PAYE/NI taxation due to the govt “refusing” VA’s request (I know Rob has covered the debt reasons).

    I recall Airbus’s letter (with RR) saying 330neo was dependent on VA. I remember when A350 (not XWB) was, what is now, A330neo until Steven Udvar Hazy (International Aircraft Leasing or similar) said it wasn’t good enough.

    • Lady London says:

      Yes it’s miraculous how many UK employees Vodafone forced to move to Luxembourg. My friend there said they were offering very, very nice relocation packages as well.

      Clearly it was worth Vodafone going to all tphis trouble and paying a lot of money, to do this and not pay their fair share of UK corporation tax.

    • JohnG says:

      @MelonFarmer – I don’t have a lot of time for Owen Jones as I’ve always found he starts with the point he has decided to make and just acts like anything that contradicts it doesn’t exist. Vodafone’s reason was never that their employees paid enough, it was that they could legally pay less; the employee stuff was PR. I’m always astounded by how much, actually criminal, tax dodging goes on by normal individuals; who would be amongst the first to criticise Vodafone. Be it the tradesmen who takes cash in hand, the person who asks for a cash rate knowing it’s only cheaper because it’s dodging tax, people who order things from China labelled as gift or falsely priced, people working second off the books second jobs during furlough, people who travel abroad to buy fags/booze/etc cheaper then sell it when they return (without declaring it and paying duty) or those that buy from them. I honestly would be surprised if less than half of the adult population hadn’t done something which saved them money by avoiding tax they were legally obliged to pay.

      In this case I’m not sure I see these employees as pawns in some national game. The business isn’t viable as is, it isn’t viable for the government to indefinitely prop up any company that might fail no matter how in-viable their business model even if the company won’t change it.

      • mark2 says:

        ‘ avoiding tax they were legally obliged to pay.’ that is tax evasion not avoidance.

  • Laura says:

    This is all part of the green recovery. The less flying we do, the better.

    • Spaghetti Town says:

      Not sure if you’re a troll, but perhaps you’re reading the wrong blog?

      • SuzyQ says:

        oh no! i just spluttered my cappuccino down my clean top and I have a Zoom call on its way. PJ bottoms survived though!

    • Lady London says:

      Ché ?

  • mark2 says:

    May we assume that saintly Virgin will be paying generous sums to those made redundant, not like evil BA?

    • James says:

      I doubt it, BA have sowed the seeds for many companies and industries now. Tough sh*t, take us to court if you can.

    • marcw says:

      Will be as evil as BA. VS has NO cash.

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