Virgin Atlantic Sets Sights On Norway – But Not For Passengers

Virgin Atlantic Cargo continues to adapt to the suppressed passenger demand arising as a result of the prolonged pandemic and the UK’s new strict travel restrictions. Starting this past Wednesday, the airline is sending one of its Boeing 787 Dreamliners to Norway twice a week to bring back Atlantic salmon and king crab.

Virgin Atlantic 787
Virgin Atlantic is sending one of its Dreamliners above the Arctic Circle for Norwegian seafood. Photo: Vincenzo Pace |

Up above the Arctic Circle

The pandemic has made for some interesting routes and unusual airline operations. Many of these have been done in the name of repatriation flights. However, some have come about from a bid to supplement a diminished passenger revenue with earnings from cargo carriage.

Compared to previous global-scale crises, food supply has remained largely unhindered throughout COVID-1. At least, it has if one does not take into account panic-driven empty shelves at the beginning of the first lockdowns, restocked within a matter of hours, or a day or two at the most.

The latest passenger airline to continue its diversification into the cargo-only sphere is Virgin Atlantic. The carrier’s cargo division will now connect London Heathrow (LHR) in the UK to Harstad/Narvik Airport (EVE) in Norway’s Nordland county. According to Air Cargo World, flights commenced on Wednesday, January 27th.

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Penny Lane 787
Penny Lane brought the first shipment of Norwegian salmon and king crabs to London on Wednesday. Photo: Steve Lynes via Wikimedia Commons

Part of Virgin Atlantics cargo-drive

Virgin Atlantic has chosen to operate the route with its Boeing 787s. The one given the honor of inaugurating the new twice-weekly endeavor above the Arctic Circle was the near three-year-old Dreamliner G-VNYL, or Penny Lane. The airline has used at least 17 of the type for cargo-only operations since the beginning of the pandemic.

Virgin Atlantic has also chosen to increase its overall cargo-only capacity from 21 to 33 rotations per week in January, including daily flights between London and Brussels. During 2020, the airline’s cargo branch operated 4,000 cargo-only flights. It also launched ten new routes, including Beijing and Xiamen in China.

“The growth in our cargo-only flying this January demonstrates the agility and flexibility of our teams in order to maintain a resilient cargo operation in such dynamic market conditions,” said Dominic Kennedy, managing director at Virgin Atlantic Cargo, in a statement seen by Simple Flying.

Qatar Airways Boeing 777-2DZ(LR) A7-BBF
Qatar Airways operates a 777 to Narvik three times a week. Photo: Vincenzo Pace |

Not the only widebody seafood carrier

Seafood is one of the most traded commodities across the world. The 150 largest seafood companies account for over $120 billion in sales. Norway’s seafood industry’s share is about $12.65 billion – quite a large chunk for a country of just over five million people and 385,000 km².

Virgin is not the only carrier to operate widebodies to Norway for the bounty of the northern Atlantic. Last month, Qatar Airways began flying Boeing 777-300s from Doha to Harstad-Narvik. The Gulf carrier flies the route three times a week, bringing up to 150 tons of Norwegian seafood exports to Doha and onwards to destinations across the Middle East, Africa, and Asia.

What are the most interesting cargo routes you have heard of as a result of the current situation? Tell us about it in the comment section.