Virgin Atlantic Cargo is “highly unlikely” to operate freighters again in current market

Phil Wardlaw. Photo: Virgin Cargo

Virgin Atlantic Cargo (VAC) is “highly unlikely” to operate freighters now the air cargo market is in decline following its pandemic peak.

VAC managing director Phil Wardlaw told Air Cargo News that favourable economic conditions that include high demand and rates would have to occur in the market for freighter operations to be a possibility.

“At the moment, the economics of wet leasing the aircraft directly ourselves and running those lanes doesn’t add up.

“I think we’d have to see some of those economic conditions return which saw us use freighters in the first place. So I think it’s highly unlikely. Our core model is passenger belly capacity.”

But although it doesn’t make financial sense for VAC to operate freighters, demand still exists on some trade lanes in Europe, Wardlaw says.

“I think there’s still an opportunity on some of those lanes in Europe. There’s definitely still demand. And some of our customers still talk to us around that ability, whether it’s Brussels, Frankfurt, or Amsterdam.”

The airline previously had a London-Brussels service operated by Titan Airways, utilising an Airbus A321P2F, which began in May last year and ran until October, after which it began operating on an ad hoc basis until Christmas.

“In terms of the Titan aircraft coming back with us in the short term, I don’t see it,” says Wardlaw.

From August to October 2 last year, VAC also ran a service that operated three times a week between Denmark’s Billund Airport and Heathrow Airport in London using an Airbus A321F operated by Titan Airways. The service was planned as a temporary operation during a period of expected high demand and ended on schedule.

However, according to Wardlaw, should the economic conditions be right, VAC would consider restarting freighter operations.

“If the economics were to add up again, we’d certainly be in the market to do it. And therefore do we try and open those lanes in a different way? Our trucking networks are back fully operating on those lines, which would help.”

By the end of 2024, Virgin will have received its full order of 12 Airbus A350s, as well as the arrival of a further four A330neos to further expand belly capacity. Its total fleet target is 46 aircraft across all fleet types by the end of 2025.

Over the coming weeks there will also be four-five new routes announced, three of which will be “really good cargo routes”, says Wardlaw.

Virgin already benefits from a pre-existing joint venture with Delta, Air France and KLM, but it is also planning to announce “two or three strategic alliances with airlines during the course of the rest of this year” that are expected to strengthen cargo.

Wardlaw says Virgin isn’t inclined to pursue acquisitions, but it would consider memorandum of understandings (MoUs) to help it strategically develop.

“I really think there’s a big opportunity as the Virgin Atlantic network grows. And it will grow beyond North America as well.”

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Rebecca Jeffrey

Rebecca Jeffrey
New to aviation journalism, I joined Air Cargo News in late 2021 as deputy editor. I previously worked for Mercator Media’s six maritime sector magazines as a reporter, heading up news for Port Strategy. Prior to this, I was editor for Recruitment International (now TALiNT International). Contact me on: [email protected]