Next year, Virgin Atlantic will take delivery of the first of 12 Airbus A350-1000 aircraft.
These will operate at Gatwick and Heathrow and are intended to replace all of its remaining 8 Boeing 747-400 aircraft which operate principally from Gatwick, and its Airbus A340 aircraft at Heathrow.
The first three Airbus A350-1000 aircraft are currently in production at Airbus in Toulouse. The first aircraft, registration G-VLUX, will be delivered in early 2019 and will operate from London Heathrow. All aircraft are expected to be delivered by the end of 2021.
There will be two configurations for Gatwick and Heathrow. The Gatwick fleet will have seating for up to 410 passengers. The Heathrow fleet will have seating for up to 360 passengers. This compares to a confirmed number of 331 seats for BA’s Airbus A350-1000.
Virgin has not confirmed the first route, but has said it will be a “key” US route. Virgin will be the first operator of the Airbus A350 on direct transatlantic routes from London. An obvious choice is an East Coast destination such as Boston or New York as it’s relatively short and there is back-up if there are operational problems. The inaugural Boeing 787 route in 2014 was Boston. It should be noted that there may be gaps in the first passenger Airbus A350-1000 flights if additional crew familiarisation flights – which operate without passengers – are necessary.
Virgin has promised innovations in all cabins, economy, Premium and Upper Class. It has promised an entirely new Upper Class suite. This will be the first radical redesign since the Upper Class suite was introduced in 2003.
BA is also expected to take delivery of its first Airbus A350-1000 in July 2019 and has also promised a radical redesign of its Club World cabin. This is the first time both airlines are introducing a new aircraft type and a new business class cabin within a matter of months in the same year. Both airlines have long-standing and quite radically different business class configurations, each with their own advantages and trade-offs. It is going to be interesting to see how they compare and how both airlines differentiate themselves – in terms of both actual design and PR. Both airlines have remained tight-lipped about their exact designs.
A combination of improved cabin comfort on the Airbus A350-1000 and the latest seat designs should certainly make it the preferred aircraft for transatlantic flights.
Update April 2019
Virgin Atlantic has confirmed that the first Airbus A350-1000 route will be New York JFK. It has also unveiled the new Upper Class cabin.