Virgin Atlantic's Manchester expansion takes off

  • First of three new Virgin Atlantic routes takes off today to San Francisco.
  • Boston route launches tomorrow, with New York JFK in May..
  • 30 strong tech trade mission travels to San Francisco to bang the Northern Powerhouse drum Stateside.
  • 100,000 passengers in Manchester Airport’s catchment area who currently fly indirectly to San Francisco set to save hours in journey times.

Virgin Atlantic today kicked off a major growth drive at Manchester Airport, launching the first of a hat trick of new long haul routes to America.

This morning, the airline waved off its inaugural service to San Francisco, the first ever direct route to Northern California from the North of England. As well as opening up a popular leisure destination, it has been hailed as a major boost to the Northern Powerhouse, providing direct access to and from Silicon Valley for tech businesses across the North.

To mark the occasion, Virgin Atlantic’s Chief Commercial Officer, Shai Weis, along with Minister for International Trade Greg Hands and Manchester Airports Group’s CEO Charlie Cornish greeted guests before the flight’s departure.

International Trade Minister, Greg Hands
"A direct link between the home of the industrial revolution, and the home of the digital revolution will be a boost for both regions, and for the Northern Powerhouse’s ambitious tech and digital companies as they take advantage of new markets and trading opportunities across the world.”
International Trade Minister, Greg Hands
MAG Chief Executive, Charlie Cornish
“Virgin Atlantic’s commitment to Manchester Airport and its significant growth demonstrates the demand that exists for flights from the North to global destinations like San Francisco."
MAG Chief Executive, Charlie Cornish

They were joined by more than 30 tech leaders from the North of England, who are travelling on the inaugural flight as part of a trade mission to Silicon Valley, which remains the world’s most important hub for the sector. The delegates will fly the flag for the Northern tech scene, as they meet with bosses from California’s leading universities, representatives from tech giants and members of Silicon Valley’s venture capital funding community.

Speaking at Manchester Airport this morning, Virgin Atlantic’s Chief Commercial Officer, Shai Weiss, commented;

“We’ve been flying out of Manchester for over 20 years and today marks our biggest ever route expansion from the city. We want to offer our customers services to places they want to travel to and this summer, we’ll have 26% more seats out of the city than last year, cementing our commitment to Manchester and the Northern Powerhouse.”

Charlie Cornish, MAG CEO said: “Virgin Atlantic’s commitment to Manchester Airport and its significant growth demonstrates the demand that exists for flights from the North to global destinations like San Francisco.

“The fact so many businesses from all parts of the North are joining the trade mission is testament to the role the private sector is playing in realising the Northern Powerhouse vision and I wish them all every success out in Silicon Valley.

“It is the perfect illustration of how direct connectivity to key markets like San Francisco will drive growth in high value sectors and help deliver the Government’s new Industrial Strategy.

“Manchester Airport will continue to play a pivotal role in enabling that, as we have the capacity and demand to connect the North to even more key destinations in the months and years ahead.

“We will continue to ensure the North’s businesses have access to global markets and encourage Government to work towards a new national Aviation Strategy that maximises the role Manchester Airport can play in delivering balanced growth for the UK as a whole.

“Following today’s inaugural celebrations, we look forward to Virgin Atlantic’s other routes launching and supporting them on their growth journey at Manchester Airport.”

International Trade Minister, Greg Hands, said:

“The Northern Powerhouse, like Silicon Valley, is a leading centre of creativity and innovation. A direct link between the home of the industrial revolution, and the home of the digital revolution will be a boost for both regions, and for the Northern Powerhouse’s ambitious tech and digital companies as they take advantage of new markets and trading opportunities across the world.”

In additional to San Francisco, a new route from Manchester to Boston launches tomorrow, with Virgin Atlantic’s direct connection between the Northern Powerhouse and JFK New York commences in May, cementing the airline’s commitment to the region.

Operating three times weekly from summer 2017, Virgin Atlantic’s Manchester-San Francisco flights will connect the region with world famous landmarks such as Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz and Fisherman’s Wharf. Virgin Atlantic will be the first ever carrier to provide direct services between Manchester and the northern Californian city. The new route to the historic city of Boston in New England will fly twice weekly, also starting summer 2017. A year round New York service will operate yearly from May. All three routes will operate in conjunction with Virgin Atlantic’s joint venture partner, Delta Air Lines.

Manchester Airport is the global gateway for the North of the UK and the largest airport outside London with more than 210 destinations served by 70 airlines. With 26m annual passengers it has a wealth of long haul routes that in the UK can only also be found at London airports.

The trade mission is being led by two serial technology investors and entrepreneurs, Scott Fletcher, founder of cloud services provider ANS Group, Manchester and Dr Adam Beaumont, founder of telecoms platform business aql, Leeds. The delegation includes a mix of Northern corporates such as Sage, of Newcastle, CoOp Digital, of Manchester, as well as a host of early and mid-stage tech firms like Hull-based VISR-VR, Vibe Tickets and one iota, from Lancashire, and Manchester-based Wakelet. It is also being supported by the University of Central Lancashire and Manchester Metropolitan University.

It has been coordinated by MC2, a Northern Powerhouse partner with offices in Manchester and San Francisco, in partnership with Manchester Airport and Virgin Atlantic, and supported by the Department for International Trade and the Institute of Directors.

As well as the delegates on the trade mission, a wealth of businesses across the North of England have championed the new route:

Professor Stephen Flint, Associate Vice-President for Internationalisation at The University of Manchester:

“Direct flights to San Francisco will further increase transport options for the student exchanges we have in place with the University of California and our research ties to Stanford University. Having increased access to another major city in the US means that creating new partnerships and exchanges now becomes that much more practical for the University. ”

David Levine, CEO of Manchester based DigitalBridge, a computer vision company that allows consumers to “try on” home décor products in a virtual setting.

"Manchester has a long history in innovation; from the birthplace of the industrial revolution to the birthplace of the computer. We have northern grit, passion, talent and skills; what we lack is the type of investment Silicon Valley companies have long enjoyed. A direct flight between Manchester and San Francisco will allow us to access that funding so much easier and further place Manchester as one of the world's top cities".

Pat Geary, Chief Marketing Officer, Blue Prism:

"As a Northern Powerhouse enterprise software company with a rapidly expanding global client base, the link created by this service from Manchester to San Francisco will make it even easier for us to connect directly to the tech hub of Silicon Valley and support our rapidly growing U.S. customer and partner base. Manchester is recognized as the birthplace of computing, and it's fantastic that two global tech hubs are now directly connected."

Rob Morrice, CEO of Stein IAS:

"As the epicenter of technology innovation, San Francisco is central to our plans to further strengthen the agency’s leadership in the area of advanced B2B marketing technology and automation. In 2015 we opened a San Francisco office to augment our Manchester, London, Paris, New York and Shanghai hubs.

“The new flight provides a direct gateway for the fluid movement of people between Manchester and San Francisco which will be essential as we continue to expand, reducing both flight times and cost. From a health and wellbeing perspective, a regular morning departure time and direct route will lessen the impact on our employees and enable them to plan their time on the West Coast much more effectively. With rapidly growing relationships with multiple West Coast-based clients and prospects, the direct flight will also prove beneficial in bringing further business from the region to our Manchester hub.”

Jodi Birkett, TMT Partner at Deloitte in the North West:

“Improving these connections will only be a good thing for the region. The North West is home to multiple TMT hotspots and San Francisco boasts strong credentials, particularly when it comes to tech expertise. Direct flights from Manchester Airport are likely to facilitate knowledge sharing and collaboration between these overseas tech clusters, which will benefit organisations of all sizes, from start-ups to large enterprises. Strengthening our links with the US in this way should also help to attract investment in the long-term.”

James Blake, CEO at Hello Soda:

“We decided to open a North American office after just a few years. It’s a market that many tech companies will want to attack and this additional connectivity is great news for Manchester, and the wider Northern Powerhouse.

“This link provides the opportunity for true collaboration between the West Coast and the North. If capitalised on properly we could see improved knowledge sharing, US-growth for northern businesses with international ambitions and increased inward investment into our region. It should be welcomed by the whole business community.”

Michael Gould, CTO and Founder, Anaplan

"An improved link between the North of England and San Francisco is great news for technology companies in the North of England. Showing progress towards making the region a significant business hub, companies and entrepreneurs will benefit from better access to the foremost location for technological innovation. Conversely, firms based in California stand to benefit from the largely untapped talent pool in the North of England.”

“For us, beyond facilitating a direct connection between our heritage and headquarters, the link will allow us to network better and more easily attend conferences and form partnerships with other companies. As our technology team is mostly based in the UK, it’s vital that they should have access to our wider leadership team and the new flight plan is an important step to bridging this geographical gap.”

Stuart Wood, partner at BDO LLP said:

“The news of the latest route is welcome as we are working increasingly closely with our colleagues at BDO in the US. Our US network has more than doubled in size since 2012 and in Manchester, we work with clients from Chicago to Dallas and Las Vegas. The better the connectivity is from our region, the more growth opportunities we are likely to be able to develop.”

Chris Blaxall, CFO of Performance Horizon.

"The North of England and San Francisco Bay area are both major tech innovation hubs, and anything that helps further link the two regions is a positive step. Increased travel options is just one piece of a much larger puzzle, but as a global business with operations in both the UK and US, we view anything that increases efficiency as an opportunity to better serve our customers no matter where they are.”

Ashley Rogers, Chairman – North Wales Business Council, Director - Gill & Shaw Ltd:

“Direct flights to San Francisco from Manchester Airport, will be an invaluable asset for businesses across North West England and North Wales. Direct access to Silicon Valley and it’s investor base, is hugely important for the further growth of our leading edge Tech and Software businesses across the Northern Powerhouse. Thank you Manchester Airport and Virgin!”