09 June 2014 at 08.27 GMT
Virgin Atlantic’s domestic arm Little Red has been flying aircraft which are on average more than 60% empty, according to a weekend report.
Figures from the Civil Aviation Authority show Little Red’s load factor was just 37.6% in 2013, the lowest in the industry, the Telegraphreported.
Little Red’s performance puts it behind rivals British Airways and easyJet, which recorded load factors of 72.4% and 77.8% respectively for 2013, according to the data.
Responding to the CAA figures, Virgin Atlantic insisted Little Red’s load factor so far this year has been “considerably higher than the 2013 average”.
A spokesman said: “We are very pleased with the progress we are seeing after Little Red’s first year of operation.
“We expected it to take some time for our customers to be fully aware of the service and we planned for comparatively low initial load factors.
“Now Little Red is gaining momentum. Since the start of 2014, it has been gaining market share, beating revenue and load factor budgets and generating great customer feedback.
“Our load factor so far in 2014 is already considerably higher than the 2013 average. We expect this to continue as we move into the summer travel season.”
The domestic carrier was launched in March last year to feed passengers from the north of England and Scotland into Virgin Atlantic’s long-haul network from Heathrow.
Little Red was established after rival British Airways took over BMI in a £172.5 million deal in 2012, which was contested by Virgin founder Sir Richard Branson.
BMI, which was previously owned by Lufthansa, had been a major source of feeder traffic for Virgin Atlantic.
Virgin Atlantic chief executive Craig Kreeger, who is seeking to return the airline to profitability by the end of this year, refused to reveal Little Red’s load factor in an interview with the Telegraph last month, saying rumours of the service’s demise had been “greatly exaggerated”.
He said at the time: “The real answer is it’s been building steadily and I’m now extremely comfortable with it.”
Sourced from Travel Weekly