By Daniel Hunter

Virgin Atlantic has confirmed that it has been offered the rights to operate Heathrow links to Edinburgh and Aberdeen.

The airline, owned by Sir Richard Branson, bid successfully for the London landing slots formerly operated by BMI.

The slots were released to others by regulators as a condition of allowing the takeover earlier this year of BMI by British Airways' owner IAG. Virgin Atlantic intends to start operating the new services from the end of next March.

"We have fought hard for the right to fly short-haul and take a strong challenge to British Airways within these shores," Steve Ridgeway, chief executive of Virgin Atlantic, said.

"This is the beginning of an exciting new era in Virgin Atlantic history and we now feel a responsibility to everyone that has supported us in this challenge."

Scotland's Transport Minister Keith Brown said it was a welcome announcement for both passengers and the air industry.

"The detail will be worked out over the next couple of weeks but we are pleased that the European Commission has taken note of the need for both Edinburgh and Aberdeen to be served and that Virgin Atlantic will now be able to operate from two of Scotland's most important cities," Mr Brown said.

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