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Virgin Atlantic Plots South America Entry, Expands In India

Virgin Atlantic plans to make its South American debut during the summer 2024 season, four years later than originally planned, as well as growing its network in India. The expansion will see the UK carrier fly from London Heathrow (LHR) to São Paulo, Brazil, and Bengaluru, India.

Flights to São Paulo’s Guarulhos International Airport (GRU) will begin on May 13, 2024, operating daily using Boeing 787-9 aircraft. Frequencies to Bengaluru’s Kempegowda International Airport will also be daily, commencing on March 31 next year aboard 787-9s.

Virgin Atlantic initially announced its intention to begin flying to São Paulo in September 2019, targeting a March 2020 launch. However, the start of the planned 9,460-km (5,878-nm) route was halted indefinitely following the onset of the pandemic.

As well as targeting leisure traffic, the airline hopes São Paulo will be a popular cargo route. Trade between the UK and Brazil amounted to about £7.7 billion ($9.6 billion) in 2022, according to UK government figures. The airline expects to carry regular shipments of car parts, pharmaceuticals, food and agricultural products.

Two carriers serve the London-São Paulo market at present, with British Airways (BA) offering daily Airbus A350-1000 fights and LATAM Airlines Group providing daily service using 777-300s. In total, there are about 10,300 two-way nonstop seats between the cities, and LATAM has a 55% share.

Virgin Atlantic announced a codeshare partnership with LATAM in January 2022, as the Chile-headquartered group moved closer to Delta Air Lines and its partners, Virgin Atlantic and Aeromexico. The agreement covers LATAM’s LHR-GRU service, as well as onward connections to 12 domestic airports in Brazil.

Meanwhile, Bengaluru will become Virgin Atlantic’s third destination in India, alongside Delhi and Mumbai. Since 2019, the carrier has increased capacity to India by 250%, marking the airline’s largest area of growth outside the U.S. The addition of this route means it will offer 500,000 two-way seats between the UK and India.

OAG data shows that BA is currently the sole operator of London-Bengaluru flights, serving the market daily using 777s. In total, the Oneworld member has 3,808 seats available between the cities.

Virgin Atlantic signed a codeshare partnership with Indian LCC IndiGo in August 2022, initially enabling passengers flying to Delhi and Mumbai to connect to seven domestic destinations. The agreement has since been expanded to cover 34 destinations on IndiGo’s network.

According to Sabre Market Intelligence figures, O&D traffic between London and Bengaluru totaled 160,400 two-way passengers in 2022, about 35% of whom traveled direct. The biggest one-stop market was Dubai, followed by Abu Dhabi and Delhi. The 2022 figure compares to 221,000 passengers in 2019 before the pandemic.

The planned new routes to São Paulo and Bengaluru come less than a week after Virgin Atlantic announced its return to Dubai, operating seasonally from October through to March four times a week. Flights between Manchester, England and Las Vegas will also restart from June 2, 2024 on a seasonal basis.

Other recent route announcements include new fights to the Maldives and Turks and Caicos, as well as inter-island flying in the Caribbean—between Barbados and Grenada and St. Vincent and the Grenadines.

Source: Aviation Week Network