Kangaroo route helping Virgin
Richard Branson's Virgin Atlantic insists strong passenger loads on its Australia-London flights are helping offset weakness in other parts of its international network due to tough economic conditions.
The British airline has also benefited from Qantas ditching flights between Hong Kong and London last year, as the latter consolidated its network to Europe before its alliance with Emirates.
Virgin Atlantic's former chief executive Steve Ridgway said the airline had experienced strong loads on its flights to London via Hong Kong over the past year due to the high dollar and resilient economy encouraging more Australians to fly. "The route has been very good this year," he said.
Mr Ridgway stepped down as Virgin boss in February after 12 years, but was in Australia recently as part of a final tour of the airline's Asia-Pacific operations. He said Australia was an important market for Virgin Atlantic at present because it helped to soften the impact of other weaker routes.
Mr Ridgway said the global financial crisis and its aftermath had been worse for the aviation industry than either the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks or the outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome in 2003, because it had lasted "longer and it is global".
"September 11 wasn't universal whereas the GFC has been universal and that's why it is good to see there are some bright spots [such as Australia and India]," he said.
"But we are based in London - we are in Europe - and the UK economy is pretty weak and we are close to Euroland, which is going through its own special turmoil."
Mr Ridgway said it was difficult to judge whether the global economy was over the worst.
"It doesn't feel like it is getting worse but equally it doesn't feel like there are big bright skies ahead," he said. "We will remain very focused on controlling costs, being more efficient and changing to next-generation planes which are more [fuel] efficient."
Virgin Atlantic, which has 44 twin-aisle planes, has been flying between London and Sydney via Hong Kong since December 2004. It and British Airways are the last two major European airlines still flying to Australia.
Virgin Atlantic is hoping a joint venture with US airline Delta on its key routes between the US and Britain will help stem losses. The deal is awaiting regulatory approval, which Mr Ridgway expects will take another nine months.
In December, Delta also agreed to buy Singapore Airline's 49 per cent stake in Virgin Atlantic for $US360 million. The remaining 51 per cent is owned by Virgin Group.