Richard Branson (center), founder of Virgin Atlantic and the Virgin Group, poses for a photo after he arrived on a flight from London to Seattle on Monday, March 27, at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

Smaller, more efficient 787 has been a boon for airlines

SEATAC — Virgin Atlantic started regular service between London and Seattle on Monday, just days after the demise of the glitzy British airline’s U.S.-based carrier, Virgin America.

A Virgin Atlantic Boeing 787-9 is taking over the London-Seattle route from the airline’s U.S. partner, Delta Air Lines. After several years of losses, Virgin Atlantic is back in the black thanks to its partnership with Delta, which has helped feed passengers to the U.K.-based airline’s transatlantic routes.

On Wednesday, Seattle-based Alaska Airlines announced that it is killing off the Virgin America brand, which it bought for $2.6 billion.

Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner, which is assembled in Everett and North Charleston, South Carolina, has been a boon for Virgin Atlantic, the airline’s CEO Craig Kreeger said.

It uses up to 30 percent less fuel than the older Virgin Atlantic airplanes it replaced, he said. “We’ve been thrilled by the 787.”

Virgin Atlantic is taking over the London-Seattle route from Delta, which flew a smaller Boeing 767 on the route. Delta will now put that plane into service for its new London-Portland route.

“We thought a bigger airplane and the Virgin brand might yield better results” for the London and Seattle route, Kreeger said.

Airlines are using 787s to bolster rather than break their hub-and-spoke networks of routes, according to a 2016 report from the CAPA Centre for Aviation, an aviation-industry consulting firm. Nearly all 787 flights are between hubs or connect secondary cities and hubs, according to the report.

Instead of bypassing hubs all together, air carriers are using the efficient 787 to connect smaller, distant cities to major hubs, for example, connecting Austin, Texas, to London.

These new routes would be money-losers for airlines with bigger, long-haul airplanes, such as the 777. The 787’s lower operating costs, size and range turn them into moneymakers for airlines, the report says.

The 787 also has enabled cheap-fare airlines, such as Norwegian Air and Singapore Airlines’ subsidiary Scoot, to elbow into the long-haul market. These airlines’ strategies of offering cheaper international flights would not be profitable without the 787, according to the report.

Airlines are not the only businesses rethinking their strategies because of advanced airplanes.

“New widebody aircraft (such as the 787 and Airbus A330neo) have affected our strategy and thinking for international route development,” Kazue Ishiwata, Sea-Tac International Airport’s senior manager for air service development, told The Daily Herald last year.

The airport is looking to develop new direct flights to secondary cities in China and Southeast Asia, she said.

Sea-Tac has been one of the country’s fastest growing airports for the past three years, according to the Port of Seattle, which owns and operates the airport.

The port is putting $3.2 billion into expanding the airport in the next few years as it looks to welcome even more travelers through its gates.

The Virgin airline empire launched in the 1980s by Sir Richard Branson has struggled in recent years. After more than a decade, the Virgin Group gave up on its domestic U.S. carrier.

Alaska’s announcement to fold Virgin America into its own brand was a shock, Branson said at a press conference at Sea-Tac International Airport on Monday. He expected that “the last thing they would do is to rip the heart out of it, which is effectively seems to be what they’ve decided to do.”

Alaska Airlines still has to pay millions of dollars in licensing fees each year through 2040, he said.

“I just wonder what it was that Alaska bought; you know, why did they bother?” he said.

After tearing into the U.S. airline, Branson added, “I thought I’d be polite, but I decided not to be.”

Dan Catchpole: 425-339-3454; dcatchpole@heraldnet.com. Twitter: @dcatchpole.

Talk to us

More in Herald Business Journal

Rep. Larsen tours small businesses given federal PPP loans

The congressman said leaders in Washington D.C. continue to negotiate for further COVID-19 relief.

Boeing: No orders, more cancellations for grounded 737 Max

The company has lost more than 800 net orders so far this year.

Relieve the pandemic coin shortage: Bust open the piggy bank

The coronavirus lockdown means less metal is in circulation. Banks and merchants are desperate for change.

Glacier Lanes won’t be spared: Owners decide to close forever

Bowlers statewide are rallying to open venues shut by COVID rules, but this Everett business isn’t waiting.

Marysville sues Arlington over plan for 500 apartments

Marysville worries the major project on 51st Avenue NE will gum up traffic at a nearby intersection.

Snohomish County PUD embraces ‘smart’ meters despite concerns

A handful of customers said they were worried about privacy, peak-hour rate increases and safety.

Big new apartment complex anchors Broadway’s transformation

The seven-story, 140-unit Kinect @ Broadway is one of several facelifting projects in Everett’s core.

Pop into this Everett pop-up store for new vinyl records

Upper Left Records will offer albums from local bands and new pressings of classic recordings.

Everett’s new equity manager is ready to roll up her sleeves

In her new job, Kay Barnes will work to ensure that the city’s staff reflects Everett’s diversity.

Everett startup makes a swift pivot from in-person to online

Abacus links hobbyists, crafters and artists with people who want to learn new skills — virtually.

Dining in the street is now an official thing in Everett

With a free permit, businesses can expand outdoor seating to street parking areas — and fencing is provided.

FAA: Boeing pressured safety workers at S.C. aircraft plant

Federal officials are seeking to fine Boeing $1.25 million for practices related to 787 inspection oversight.