Nowadays, Virgin Atlantic is among life and death. They’ve just announced its Gatwick base closure and a plan to cut up to more than 3.000 jobs. How this emblematic airline was started up?
Virgin Atlantic is on the verge of disappearance if there is no investment from its owners. It’s a very well-known because of his founder, Richard Branson, a charismatic businessman who allowed his trademark “Virgin” was globally known, creating a relationship between a successful trademark and a successful man.
It’s ironic Virgin leaves Gatwick, the airport where it took off for the first Virgin commercial flight in June 22 of 1.984 to New York Newark. On that maiden flight, the B747-200 registered G-VIRG, “The Maiden Voyager”, took off with Richard Branson himself, other famous people and media on board. They installed a screen in the cabin, so passengers were able to watch take off from their seats. In the image they could see both pilots and the flight engineer having a relaxing chat, meanwhile the airplane was speeding the runway. As soon as the nose of the airplane lifted up, both pilots turned to the camera and people realised they were two famous cricketers, and the flight engineer was Richard Branson himself. They recorded the video during previous day in a simulator. The airline was profitable in the first year of operation.
The beginnings were never easy.
The first contact Richard Branson had with aviation, took place during holidays with his family. That day, Richard and his wife, Joan, were heading to Puerto Rico after spending some days in Virgin Islands to connect with other flight. However, when they arrived at the airport, their flight had been cancelled. He soon realised there were other stranded passengers around with the same problem and called an air charter company. Their flight to Puerto Rico would cost $2.000. Richard borrowed a little blackboard and wrote: “Virgin Airways, $39 single flight to Puerto Rico”. After walking around the terminal could filled in the plane. 6 years later, Virgin Atlantic would see its maiden flight. However, was not as easy as that.
Randolph Fields, an american lawyer, had founded British Atlantic Airways with an ex-pilot from Laker Airways. In 1.983, the Virign Group was looking for investments to diversify their Business and Fields got in touch with Branson as a potential investor in his airline. After a year, in February 1.983, Virgin and Fields were equally partners of Virign Atlantic Airways. Nevertheless, Virgin Banks requested Virgin to have most of stakes to control the airline. Fields then reduced his ownership percentage to a 25%, and Virgin would have the 75% of the airline.
British Caledonian, lodged an objection to Virgin Atlantic license application and, soon Fields would be involved in a hearing with CAA (Civil Aviation Authority), questioned about emergency drills, maintenance and financing. The project was still an idea on paper. Richard Branson showed up himself in front of CAA to demonstrate the financial viability of the airline. CAA showed sceptical about Field’s ability to manage the airline and imposed a minimum of £3 million working capital. Virgin had to deal with some tripping, known as “Dirty Tricks Campaign”, orchestrated by British Airways.
The troubled flight test.
After long and difficult negotiations with Boeing, they finally got an agreement to lease a B747-200 for one year. The airplane, which came from Aerolíneas Argentinas, should do a flight test, a non-commercial flight with a CAA official on board to obtain its awaited operator license.
For this flight, carried the new flight attendants, one hundred of Virgin staff and Richard Branson who was seated on last row with CAA official. Everything was normal involved in a happy atmosphere… until a loud bang with a bright flash coming from one engine leaving a track of black smoke, silenced the cabin. The airplane had ingested a flock of birds. Amid a stunned silence, the CAA officer put his arm around Branson’s shoulder and said: “Never mind, Richard, these things happen”.
Inaugural flight was three days after this incident, and they have no license yet. Roy Gardner, Virgin’s chief of engineering installed the new engine and was ready for the next day for the flight test in a record time. However, there was a cost for Virgin of £600,00 because insurance only covered for an engine damage under an operator license.
Virgin, as every passenger airline in the world is a victim of current context, and it’s facing a very difficult situation, again. Virgin Will leave Gatwick, whose volume of operation will be affected. British Airways, Norwegian, Thomas Cook and Virgin all have a share of almost 33%. At least Wizzair will increase its presence in the airport.
At the same time, Virgin Atlantic will ground all 7 B747-400 left, airplane which grew with the airline after B747 classic were retired. Besides this, Virgin will ground 4 A330 before 2.022. Virgin currently operates a mixed fleet of 42 airplanes, A330, A350, B747 and B787. Amongst its 33 destinations, fly mainly to caribe, United States and Asia.
Maybe Virgin will overcome its destiny and will be able to come trough thanks to a new investment. With disappearance of Virgin Australia, Virgin America’s acquisition by Alaska airlines, is the only Virgin airline which remains in the sky.