Virtual airline (economics)

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In economics, a virtual airline is an airline that has outsourced as many possible operational and business functions as it can, but still maintains effective control of its core business.[1] Such an airline focuses on operating a network of air services, and outsourcing non-core activities to other organizations.[2] Contracting out services within the aviation industry has reportedly become so common that many carriers could be classed as having features of a virtual airline, although it is arguable whether any current carriers meet a strict definition of the term.[3][4]

The term is also used to describe travel companies and ticket agencies that market themselves as airlines, but are unlicensed and with flights undertaken by licensed operators, often in the livery of the virtual airline.


Virtual airlines originated following the drastic changes brought about by the Airline Deregulation Act of 1978. During the hyper-competitive years immediately following deregulation, major airlines found it increasingly unprofitable to compete against start-up carriers on many routes they currently served. Instead of forfeiting the routes entirely, the larger carriers often made marketing arrangements with smaller airlines to fly under the "banner", or aircraft livery, of the larger airline. These regional airlines, mimicking the well known major airlines in adverts and purporting to make connections as seamless as possible, soon abandoned their own local service routes. In most cases, the regional airlines found it more profitable to serve the mainline hubs as a feeder operation rather than operate on their own.[citation needed]

A Dornier 228 with the livery of virtual airline Manx2; the aircraft was actually operated by FLM Aviation, with Manx2 being a ticket broker.

List of virtual airlines[edit]


North America[edit]

With mainline-type equipment[edit]

With regional-type equipment[edit]

South America[edit]


  1. ^ Flouris, Triant (2006). Designing and Executing Strategy in Aviation Management. Ashgate Publishing. p. 91. ISBN 0-7546-3618-6.
  2. ^ Doganis, Rigas (2005). The Airline Business. Routledge. p. 283. ISBN 0-415-34615-0.
  3. ^ Ioannides, Dimitri (1998). The Economic Geography of the Tourist Industry: A Supply-side Analysis. Routledge. p. 118. ISBN 0-415-16411-7.
  4. ^ Domberger, Simon (1998). The Contracting Organization: A Strategic Guide to Outsourcing. Oxford University Press. p. 146. ISBN 0-19-877458-3. British Airways [has] lean[ed] towards becoming the first of the new general of Virtual Airlines
  5. ^

External links[edit]

Media related to Virtual airlines (economics) at Wikimedia Commons