Branson’s Baby at 35

Virgin Atlantic was originally formed in 1984 as British Atlantic Airways by co-founders Randolph Fields and Alan Hillary to fly services between London and the Falkland Islands.

Before operations started, Fields sold his stake to Richard Branson (now Sir Richard) and soon after the airline changed its name to the now familiar Virgin Atlantic Airways. The carrier’s maiden flight from Gatwick Airport to Newark/Liberty departed on June 22, 1984. A great deal has happened over the subsequent years including an important tie-up with Delta Air Lines which has seen the major US carrier acquiring a 49% stake in the airline in 2012. In July 2017, the Virgin Group sold a further 31% stake to Air France-KLM leaving it with just a 20% holding.

Where it all began, Virgin Atlantic’s first aircraft, Boeing 747-287B, G-VIRG (c/n 21189) ‘Maiden Voyager’, rotates from a damp Gatwick runway in August 1985. Carl Ford (AIRTEAMIIMAGES.COM/CARLFORD)

Since then Virgin Atlantic has been modernising its fleet with the arrival of Boeing 787-9 Dreamliners, Airbus A350- 1000s and at this year’s Paris Air Show signed a deal for up to 20 A330-900neos. Here, we take a look back at some of the types that have operated with the carrier over the last 35 years.

During 1987, the airline began a new service between London/Luton and Dublin using second-hand Vickers Viscount turboprops including this example, G-AOYG (c/n 256). The route was withdrawn around the turn of the decade. Dirk Grothe (AIRTEAMIMAGES.COM/DIRKGROTHE)
The Boeing 747 has formed the backbone of the Virgin Atlantic fleet for the last 35 years, but this is all about to change as the four-engine type is being gradually phased out and replaced by 12 Airbus A350-1000s, the first of which is already in service. SIMON GREGORY/AVIATION IMAGE NETWORK
Virgin Atlantic operated a fleet of ten Airbus A340-300s including this example, G-VELD (c/n 214) ‘African Queen’, from 1993 until the variant was withdrawn from service in April 2015. Steve Flint (AIRTEAMIMAGES.COM/STEVEFLINT)
When problems with the Rolls-Royce Trent engines on its Boeing 787-9 Dreamliners made it necessary to temporarily park some aircraft, Virgin Atlantic leased four former airberlin A330-200s to cover the capacity shortfall. The carrier said the jets would add “resilience” to its fleet until the Trent issues are fixed. Simon Willson (AIRTEAMIMAGES.COM/SIMONWILLSON)
British Midland International provided domestic and European feeder traffic into Heathrow in partnership with Virgin Atlantic until it was sold to the International Airlines Group in 2011. After purchasing enough slots at Heathrow, Virgin launched its own domestic services on March 31, 2013 under the Little Red brand using four wet-leased Airbus A320-200s from Aer Lingus. After suffering heavy losses, the carrier decided to cease flights on September 26, 2015. SIMON GREGORY/AVIATION IMAGE NETWORK


Virgin Atlantic has replaced the costly-to-operate A340-300 fleet with leased A330-300s on a one-for-one basis – the first example arrived in February 2011. The carrier is planning to retire its fleet of A330s early in the next decade and has already placed an order for the next generation variant, the A330-900neo. Darryl Morrell (AIRTEAMIMAGES.COM/DARRYLMORRELL)


The Airbus A340-600 is 39ft 4in (12m) longer than its sibling the -300 and more than 13ft 5in (4m) longer than the Boeing 747-400. When it entered service with launch customer Virgin Atlantic in August 2002 it was the world’s longest-range commercial airliner until the arrival of Boeing’s 777-200LR. ANGELO BUFALINO/AVSTOCK​​


Three months after its maiden transatlantic flight Virgin Atlantic launched services linking Gatwick Airport and Maastricht/Aachen in the Netherlands using this British Aircraft Corporation One-Eleven, G-AXMU (c/n 157) chartered from British Island Airways. Woldgang Mendorf (AIRTEAMIMAGES.COM/WOLFGANG)