Here’s an interesting off-topic story for a Saturday.
Covid led to many businesses having to pivot their operations, none more so than airlines.
Virgin Atlantic was, for many months, more of a cargo airline than a passenger airline. Back in 2020, the airline began running two flights per week to and from Brussels using long haul aircraft, feeding cargo into its transatlantic and Asian network.
Spring forward to 2022 and the airline has operated over 700 flights from Brussels, transporting over 16 million kg of cargo. The recent issues with P&O Ferries have meant that demand continues to be strong.
The routes is going so well that, as of May 2022, Virgin Atlantic Cargo is running two flights per DAY to Brussels. VS571 leaves Heathrow at 08.20 whilst VS573 leaves Heathrow at 17.30. Brussels is the only cargo-only route being operated by Virgin Atlantic.
With Virgin Atlantic’s passenger operations now picking up again, the airline no longer has enough spare long haul aircraft to operate a Brussels service.
Whilst it is still not operating as many passenger flights as it did pre-covid, the requirement to extend flight times on certain eastbound routes to avoid Russian airspace has meant more aircraft being needed to service the existing routes.
The solution was leasing an Airbus A321 from Titan Airways. To quote from the Titan website:
“In 2020 Titan Airways became the first carrier in the northern hemisphere – and one of the first in the world – to operate the Airbus A321P2F. The aircraft is the first of its size to have containerised loading in both of its two decks. With capacity for up to 14 containers in the main deck and 10 containers in the lower deck, the aircraft can carry up to 207m3 / 27,000kg of cargo.”
These aircraft were reportedly originally used by Thomas Cook for passenger service before the airline collapsed, and were then converted to freight operation.
There is, of course, another good reason for Virgin Atlantic to stick with Brussels. The flights allow it to utilise two pairs of its daily take off and landing slots at Heathrow, which will be forfeited if not used for 70% of the time during the Summer flying season.
With the slot rules expected to return to 80% usage from November, Brussels may continue to play a part in the Virgin Atlantic schedule if the airline cannot resume its full roster of passenger flights to Asia.