Lady Penelope

Virgin Atlantic 747-400

Virgin Atlantic currently uses three separate aircraft types on the London (Heathrow)-New York (JFK) route, the 747-400, the A340-600, and the new-to-Virgin A330-300. The very busy London-New York route is also flown by American Airlines, British Airways, Delta Air Lines, United Airlines, and Kuwait Airways (a continuation of service from Kuwait City via London). “Lady Penelope” – , registered G-VFAB (msn: 24958) – is seen here on final at JFK as Virgin Atlantic Flight 45. The name is a reference to the character from the 1960s British science fiction marionette show The Thunderbirds, and the registration hints at the character’s futuristic Rolls-Royce, FAB1.

Better known for plush passenger accommodations and youthful, vibrant consumer marketing than for Cargo, Virgin Atlantic nevertheless has a thriving cargo division.

Being a long-haul airline that only flies wide body aircraft, belly freight has been a component of Virgin Atlantic’s business since the mid-1980s, shortly after the Airline commenced operations. Virgin has spent considerable effort and expense promoting their cargo product, as attendees at the recent CNS Partnership conference in Miami, where the carrier sponsored the opening reception, can attest.

Though Virgin Atlantic is not among the top cargo carriers by volume, that effort seems to have paid off. According to the carrier’s Director of Cargo, John Lloyd, 2011 was a “record year” for Virgin, with traffic up 7% over the previous year and revenues of £240 million. Since 2009, Virgin Atlantic Cargo has also handled cargo for V Australia (now part of Virgin Australia), the long-haul Oceania arm of the Virgin Group.

The largest holds in the fleet are on the A340-600, 747-400, and Virgin Australia’s 777-300ER, but Virgin is expecting delivery of at least fifteen 787-9’s and of two more A330-300s in the next few years.

Photographer: Alex Kwanten

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