Virgin Atlantic to challenge Emirates’ domination

VIRGIN Atlantic Airways, the UK-based carrier run by Sir Richard Branson, is to start regular flights to Dubai early next year. The move is likely to provide Emirates Airline with its first real challenge in the business travel market.

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By  Rhys Jones Published  June 5, 2005

VIRGIN Atlantic Airways, the UK-based carrier run by Sir Richard Branson, is to start regular flights to Dubai early next year. The move is likely to provide Emirates Airline with its first real challenge in the business travel market. Services between London Heathrow and Dubai will launch in April 2006 and will be operated with Airbus A340-600 aircraft. Flights to Dubai will start with four services per week and be introduced daily by mid-Summer 2006. Virgin Atlantic boasts the world’s widest flat beds in business class — a feature sure to rival many of Emirates’ services. “All competition is a threat — how you cope with such competition determines whether you make a profit at the end of the day — and your customers keep coming back,” Mike Simon, senior vice president, Corporate Communications, Emirates Airline told Arabian Business. “There are many airlines already serving this route and we do not expect a price-war [with Virgin Atlantic],” he added. Rumours and statements claiming Virgin was set to fly in and out of Dubai have circulated for the past three years but no such move materialised from the British carrier. However, Virgin chairman Sir Richard Branson believes the airline and the emirate are now ready to accommodate each other. “I am delighted Virgin Atlantic is launching services to and from Dubai. Just like Virgin Atlantic, Dubai is committed to growth and we want to help it happen,” said Branson. “I have visited Dubai several times in recent years and I’ve been bowled over with what it has to offer and staggered by the commitment to further development there,” he added. Virgin Atlantic will likely carry a mixture of business travellers and will look to take market share away from Emirates Airline, which currently dominates the Dubai-London route. “Competition is also good for the consumer — and another airline will help to develop the market even further,” said Emirates’ Simon. “There are more than 10 airlines serving the UK from Dubai and we believe there is a big cake, big enough for all of us,” he added. The new route is significant for Virgin Atlantic because it represents the airline’s first foray into the Middle East. The move could also pave the way for other Virgin subsidiaries such as Virgin Mobile, Virgin Cars and Virgin Holidays to enter the region. “This route will be Virgin Atlantic’s first destination in the region,” explained Branson. “Dubai has established itself as the key travel hub of the region and is also a major business centre in its own right. It could offer many opportunities for other Virgin companies and I’m hoping Virgin Atlantic’s presence will be the platform for further expansion,” he added. Meanwhile, Emirates Airline came under a sustained attack from airline chief executives attending an aviation conference last week. The verbal assault came during a heated debate on government ownership and allegations of capacity dumping in Australia. Speaking at the International Air Transport Association annual meeting, Air Canada chairman Robert Milton told delegates that what Emirates was doing in Australia was “outrageous”. Milton accused Emirates of dumping capacity in Australia and the Tasman, labelling the increase the greatest in airline history. Qantas chief executive Geoff Dixon also took a swipe at Emirates, claiming that it enjoyed the luxury of being owned by a government that also owned the airport and set aviation policy. “Any airline CEO that can control the airport and the government would be making a lot more money,” said Dixon. “You can’t be the owner and the regulator — it is inherently wrong,” he claimed.

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