Sir Richard Branson today welcomed the deal reached between the UK and Hong Kong to liberalise their air services arrangements and announced that Virgin Atlantic plans to launch services to Australia, via Hong Kong, from next summer.
Today’s agreement at air services negotiations between the UK and Hong Kong paves the way for Virgin Atlantic to launch new services to Australia, bringing much needed competition, and its award winning service and innovative products, to the Kangaroo route. Implementation of the agreement is subject to the final approval of the European Commission but as this deal is pro-competition and pro-consumer Virgin Atlantic expects approval to be granted soon to enable it to operate these services from Summer 2004.
Commenting on the deal Sir Richard said:
“Everyone at Virgin Atlantic has long wished for the airline to operate to Australia, and today’s deal between Hong Kong and the UK means that our ambition will soon become a reality. This is truly a dream come true for the travelling public and everyone at Virgin Atlantic.
“I am very grateful to the Hong Kong authorities for agreeing to this change to the air services arrangements, and to UK Ministers for the offer of trans-Atlantic rights to Hong Kong carriers that made this deal possible. I would also like to express my thanks to all of those in Hong Kong who have helped us achieve this result, and especially the Airport Authority of Hong Kong.
“I’m particularly pleased that we will be able to link up with our sister airline Virgin Blue. Virgin Blue has been a huge success and now accounts for 30% of the Australian market. Virgin Blue will be able to fly our passengers from Sydney to every major Australian city at prices people can afford.”
The UK has negotiated a deal in line with EC draft regulations and Virgin Atlantic will be pressing ahead with plans to launch its award-winning service to Sydney and to expand its existing London-Hong Kong services to double daily as soon as possible.
Virgin Atlantic aims to commence operations to Sydney, via Hong Kong from Heathrow, in Summer 2004 using an Airbus A340-600. Virgin will operate a daily service through to Sydney with a two hour stopover in Hong Kong in both directions. As the route builds we’ll fly the new A380 “super-jumbo” aircraft to Sydney - meaning that the route will move from the world’s longest aircraft to the world’s largest aircraft.
Richard also said:
“The start of Virgin Atlantic operations to Australia will be a boon for consumers in the UK, Hong Kong and Australia, as it will mean that much needed competition is brought to these markets. I am sure that Virgin’s award winning service and innovative products will be well received both in the UK-Australia and Hong Kong-Australia markets. Travellers on the Kangaroo route have not previously experienced the level of comfort offered in Virgin’s new Upper Class Suite which consists of a reclining leather seat for take off, a place to sit and eat a proper meal opposite your partner, the longest fully flat bed in the world with a proper mattress for sleeping on, a private onboard bar to drink at with your friends, a private massage room and four limousines per return trip - all at a price thousands of pounds less than BA’s First Class.
“I am under no illusions though that competing on the Kangaroo route will be easy, especially given the overwhelming advantages enjoyed by BA and Qantas through their Joint Services Agreement for services between London and Australia, and the joint dominance of Qantas and its oneworld partner Cathay on services between Hong Kong and Australia. Despite today’s agreement I still expect the Australian competition authorities to take a tough stance on the BA/Qantas joint services agreement in order that Virgin, and others, can operate on a level playing field.”
Finally, Richard called on Geoff Dixon, Chief Executive of Qantas to fulfil the terms of the challenge laid down on 24 July of this year.
“Geoff Dixon said we’d never get the rights to fly to Australia. We said we’d do so within 18 months and we set Geoff a challenge, which would see the loser wearing cabin crew uniform and serving on the winner’s aircraft from London to Sydney. I’m asking Geoff to send us his measurements now so we can get his uniform made up for our inaugural flight. Oh and by the way Geoff, I’ll have a gin and tonic!”