The rumoured announcement that Virgin Atlantic will start services between Heathrow and Manchester next Spring looks suspiciously like posturing ahead of the decision about who is to get the handful of ex-BMI slots that BA has to give up. Virgin wants to show that it is a credible shorthaul airline to convince the authorities they should get all the slots.
Shorthaul regional services into expensive slot-restricted airports normally lose money. Airlines make money on the longhaul services but need the connecting flights to grab enough passengers and hope the combination of the two will give them an overall profit. BMI, which, at its height, was a very efficient shorthaul airline, could not make money on these routes. Virgin Atlantic is not even making money on its longhaul services. Virgin has wisely avoided connecting services since its inception – why should we suddenly believe that it has now found the answer to making money? It is very hard to see the Manchester route as anything other than a political game