It has taken a little while to formalise, but Virgin Atlantic is heading east out of Manchester in an expansion that will also support its North Atlantic joint venture partner Delta Air Lines

26 February, 2020

It was not a dissimilar time of the year back in 2018 that The Blue Swan Daily exclusively revealed that Virgin Atlantic was considering introducing flights from Manchester to India. The UK carrier has had an increasing presence in the northwest city, but until now that has been focused on the US market and the Caribbean supporting its trans-Atlantic partnership with Delta Air Lines.

Two years ago Virgin Atlantic and Manchester Airports Group (MAG) were tight-lipped on the story. We reported that Virgin Atlantic was working on a potential arrangement with its shareholder Delta Air Lines and Indian carrier Jet Airways to support the strong demand for flights between India and both the UK and the US.

Delta already had a partnership with Jet Airways to offer connections between the US and India via Amsterdam Schiphol, but we reported that a complementary arrangement was being discussed to potentially also route passengers via Manchester using both Jet Airways and Virgin Atlantic equipment.

CHART - Delta Air Lines had previously served the India market in partnership with Jet Airways via their respective flights into Amsterdam SchipholSource: Delta Air Lines (Mar-2018)

Under the arrangement being discussed we understood that Virgin Atlantic and Jet Airways would both launch a three times weekly schedule linking the UK city with Indira Gandhi International Airport in Delhi, with the Virgin Atlantic service being likely flown using Airbus A330-200 equipment, a new type that was debuting in the airline's fleet that year.

Jet Airways did arrive in the Delhi - Manchester market during the winter 2018/2019 with a five times weekly operation, but with that airline ceasing operations in Apr-2019 it seems that Virgin Atlantic and its shareholder Delta Air Lines have found a new solution. Now, two years on from our original story, Virgin Atlantic has confirmed the launch of a three times weekly Manchester - Delhi service from 26-Oct-2020 and yes, it will be using an A330-200 has we had predicted.

In addition to the airline's double daily service from Heathrow to Delhi and daily service from Heathrow to Mumbai, Virgin Atlantic will now offer over 600,000 seats per year between the UK and India. Delhi is the second largest Indian market from Manchester (63,000 annual passengers) after Mumbai (72,000 annual passengers).

There is not as sizeable an Indian community in the northwest of England than of immigrants from Pakistan and Bangladesh that have settled there and in the Yorkshire/Humber region to the east and which support existing links from Manchester to both latter countries. But, this route appears to be more than just about the point-to-point demand.

Following the collapse of Jet Airways last spring, Delta Air Lines inaugurated a New York - Mumbai service in Dec-2019, but it appears a Virgin Atlantic branded service between Atlanta, Boston, New York, San Francisco and Delhi via Manchester will provide another channel for the US major to serve the market.

While Air India offers the most non-stop flights between India and the US, most passengers are currently flying between the countries via the Gulf nations - and we all know the US major's views on airlines from those countries! The flights of Emirates Airline, Etihad Airways and Qatar Airways into the US are heavily underpinned by traffic connecting from India via Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Doha, respectively and the resumption of a codeshare between American Airlines and Qatar Airways will strengthen that US major's position in the market.

As for Virgin Atlantic, the airline has tripled its inventory at Manchester growing by 199.5% during the past decade. The Blue Swan Daily analysis of capacity data from OAG shows its long haul seat offering has been increasing at double-digit year over year rates since the middle of the 2010s with +29.5% growth in 2015, +10.0% in 2016, +15.8% in 2017, +10.8% in 2018 and +15.4% in 2019.

The airline's Manchester offering, like much of its network outside of its London Heathrow main operation, has for a long time been predominantly targeted towards the leisure market, but through its trans-Atlantic joint venture with equity partner, Delta Air Lines, it is beginning to see additional network options following two decades of flights from the city.

Flights between Manchester and major Indian cities have long been coveted by the airport and the local business community but failed to materialise before Jet Airways' short-lived service from Mumbai. Virgin Atlantic will hopefully last longer, otherwise Manchester will have to settle for the TUI UK twice-weekly Manchester - Goa winter service, an outright vacation operation.

Virgin Atlantic is not the only carrier filling a void from the collapse of Jet Airways. Air France, which for most of last year was expected to become a significant shareholder in the UK carrier, on the same day as Virgin Atlantic's Manchester - Delhi confirmation, confirmed plans to launch three times weekly Paris CDG - Chennai service with Boeing 787-9 equipment, effective 14-Jun-2020. Another route that will likely see fairly strong flows in and out of the US.