Australia Business

Will Virgin Australia resume international Boeing 777 flights?

Virgin Australia is expected to continue as a primarily domestic airline, apart from short overseas trips to the likes of New Zealand, Fiji and Bali, for at least several years – and no, those Boeing 777s are not coming back, either.

Bain Capital ditched Virgin’s long-range Boeing 777 and Airbus A330 jets under a sweeping ‘rescue, rightsize and reboot’ plan which saw the airline focus almost exclusively – and, arguably, so far very successfully – on the domestic market.

And while Virgin still owns some Boeing 777s, which have remained parked at parked at Toowoomba’s Wellcamp Airport, 130km west of Virgin’s Brisbane base, a spokesman for the airline reiterated to Executive Traveler It has no short-term plans to resume long-range flying, and certainly not with the fuel-hungry 777s.

This includes the Boeing 777 which this week flew from Wellcamp to Brisbane, fueling speculation that it would be the centerpiece of a forthcoming event at Virgin‘s Brisbane hanger “to celebrate a new era of flying”, with the airline teasing it as “one of the most exciting and unique aviation events of 2022.”

Executive Traveler understands this Boeing 777, which is owned by US-based UMF Bank, remains up for sale and its 25-minute flight is a matter of requirement in keeping the jet salable.

Partner airlines fill the gap

In an interim authorisation for shared pricing on Virgin Australia and United Airlines under their new partnership launch on May 24, the Australian Competition & Consumer Commission also noted that Virgin Australia “does not currently operate any long-haul international services and is unlikely to do so in the short to medium term, as it does not have access to the widebody aircraft necessary to begin operating such services.”

United Airlines of course fills that gap, with flights from Sydney and Melbourne to Los Angeles and San Francisco, along with Sydney to Houston, either running right now or soon to resume.

The Star Alliance member replaces Delta Air Lines as Virgin’s US partner – Delta has since announced its own alliance with Regional Express – while Virgin’s newest ally Qatar Airways is also waiting in the wings.

“The ACCC’s preliminary view is that this proposed codeshare arrangement with United Airlines is likely to result in a public benefit as it will help Virgin Australia re-establish her international network,” ACCC Commissioner Stephen Ridgeway remarked in granting his interim approval.

“Currently, it appears that Virgin Australia is unlikely to be able to operate its own long-haul international services in the short term.”

“These arrangements are not likely to lessen competition as there is no operational overlap on any routes between Virgin Australia and United Airlines and there are other airlines operating on the routes.”

A matter of whennot if

Virgin has always insisted that she would resume long-range international flying when demand on its key routes returned, saying “long-haul international operations are an important part of the Virgin Australia business” but would not resume until the global travel market recovered – a process which remains in its early stages.

“We are really looking forward to restarting (long-haul international flying) with a principal focus on Japan and the USA,” CEO Jayne Hrdlicka remarked in April 2021.

In September 2021 s Virgin Australia spokesman told Executive Traveler “We remain in discussions with aircraft manufacturers on a fleet strategy to support the reintroduction of widebody services when long-haul international travel demand returns.”

However, the pact with United Airlines fueled speculation that Virgin could stay out of the long-range game; Virgin’s alliance with ANA could replicate the partnership model for flights to Japan.

Former Virgin Australia CEO Paul Scurrah, who helped steer the airline out of administration in 2020 before Hrdlicka took the stick, had previously launched a “widebody fleet review” with the aim of replacing the A330 and B777 with a single aircraft type – either the Airbus A350 or the Boeing 787 – citing “significant cost savings available from next-generation aircraft.”

“We did a lot of pre-administration work on replacing both those aircraft types with a more efficient, newer version of a wide-body,” Scurrah elaborated at a media briefing in August 2020.

“We are having discussions with aircraft manufacturers but there’s also going to be leasing opportunities for us, and it might be that we go straight to the end solution or we might have a temporary lease solution” he allowed at the time.

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