Virgin Atlantic has today announced that it is to suspend its daily London Heathrow-Sydney service from 5 May 2014. The airline will continue to fly to Hong Kong, where the Sydney flight currently stops en-route.
The withdrawal of services to Sydney is not surprising. The economics of this route are very difficult for airlines based at one end of the route, rather than an intermediate point in the Middle East or Asia.
A combination of the timing of the Heathrow and Sydney curfews, long flight times and aircraft downtime at either London and Sydney between arrival and departure and a myriad of choices for consumers has resulted in British Airways reducing its services to Australia from three daily flights to one flight to Sydney over the past ten years and Qantas Airways reducing its services from London Heathrow from four to two daily flights to Australia. Virgin in particular is affected by the high operating costs of the quad-enginned Airbus A340-600 aircraft.
The airline has published guidance for affected passengers (with some slightly eyebrow raising questions). Some passengers have also received this e-mail which advises the affected passengers can be accommodated on Cathay Pacific services between Hong Kong and Sydney.
This announcement follows recent Virgin Atlantic route suspensions to Accra and Nairobi. Whilst Virgin Atlantic is at pains to emphasise that no further route suspensions are planned, it does point to an element of Virgin returning to its roots as a North Atlantic based carrier under the new leadership of Chief Executive Craig Kreeger and party ownership by Delta Airlines.
Update: Virgin Atlantic has provided further guidance for affected passengers including details of accommodation arrangements on both Cathay Pacific and Qantas Airways, and for passengers travelling to destinations other than Sydney. CAPA has also published an extensive analysis of the economic conditions that forced Virgin to cancel the route.