Virgin Connect (Flybe) May Purchase Bigger Planes In The Future

United Kingdom-based regional airline Virgin Connect (formally Flybe) may be in the market for some new larger aircraft once the new owners lay out their future plans.

Earlier this year, after having gotten into financial difficulties, the Exeter based airline Flybe was taken over by a consortium. The group included the Stobart Group, investment firm Cyrus Capital and Virgin Atlantic.

Virgin Connect wants to phase out Flybe’s Dash 8s. Photo: Marvin Mutz Wikimedia Commons

During the transition period between wrapping up Flybe and rebranding as Virgin Connect all Flybe scheduled flights are operating as normal.

Virgin Connect wants to feed Virgin Atlantic long-haul flights

Now looking to enhance the airline’s recognition with its new name Business Traveller quotes a statement from the new airline, which read: “Work is underway to develop an exciting new brand and customer proposition, which will be announced in due course.”

The statement went on to say that it would provide “an enhanced customer experience in line with the Virgin brand.”

Along with this, it promised, “more choice for customers through improved connectivity between UK regional airports and Virgin Atlantic’s extensive long-haul network, particularly at London Heathrow and Manchester Airports.”

Virgin Atlantic little red
Virgin Connect could use A320s like Virgin Atlantic Little Red did. Photo: Aero Icarus Wikimedia Commons

When the takeover took place Flybe had a fleet of over 70 aircraft made up of six Embraer E195s and 11 E175s, five ATR 72s and 54 De Havilland Dash 8-400s.

Virgin Connect’s CEO wants to develop the fleet

While speaking last Friday in London at the Airlines 2050 conference an event between the aviation industry and the UK government focusing on the UK airline sector Virgin Connect CEO Mark Anderson said, according to website Air Transport World: “We will look at developing the fleet.”

When asked if it would mean Virgin Connect purchasing larger aircraft the former Virgin Holidays boss said: “For sure.”

Airbus A220
The A220 could be the plane Virgin Connect buys. Photo: Steve Lynes Wikipedia Commons

While not wanting to get into specific types of aircraft, Virgin Connect would be looking to buy he did say: “Our partnership with Virgin Atlantic and perhaps others in future definitely give us the opportunity to look at other aircraft in future. We’re not about to make any crazy decisions and go off and buy a whole fleet of jets, but we’re not going to stay static and keep a fleet of Q400s forever and a day.”

By that, he was, of course, referring to Flybe’s fleet of 54 Bombardier Dash 8 aircraft.

For the time being Anderson told reporters at the event that his number one priority for the foreseeable future was to concentrate on the airlines existing business following the takeover.

What aircraft could replace Virgin Connect’s Bombardier Dash 8s?

In their desire to acquire replacement aircraft for the Dash 8 they could follow Austrian Airlines example and buy Airbus A320s.

According to FlightGlobal, the Lufthansa Group partner has just taken delivery of the first of 10 A320s that it plans to introduce as a replacement for its Bombardier turbo fleet by 2021.

Austrian Airlines Dash 8

Austrian Airlines is replacing their Q400s with A320s.Photo: Austrian Airlines

Interestingly Virgin Atlantic used to operate UK domestic flights (Virgin Little Red) using A320 aircraft leased from Aer Lingus so this could be an option.

Another option, and one that seems sensible given the fact they already operate Embraer aircraft is the E145 configured with 50 seats.

Then of course, if they wanted something bigger the A220 is a popular choice with airlines at the moment with Delta Airlines introducing them on routes previously operated by smaller regional jet.

However, Flybe threw us a curveball today by revealing on Twitter that it had just received a Boeing 737 simulator for its training academy. Could the bestselling Boeing be in the future for this up and coming regional UK airline?

What do you think would be the ideal aircraft to replace Virgin Connects turboprops? Please let us know in the comments.