Qantas, Virgin seek delayed take-off for new Tokyo Haneda flights

Having been cancelled by COVID-19, can new flights to Tokyo get back on track by the end of 2021?

By David Flynn, December 23 2020
Qantas, Virgin seek delayed take-off for new Tokyo Haneda flights

Qantas and Virgin Australia hope to resume their stalled flights to Tokyo's 'downtown' Haneda Airport once travel restrictions are eased, according to documents published by the International Air Services Commission (IASC).

The IASC – a federal government body which oversees Australia's international airline activity, including routes and airport takeoff and landing slots – had previously granted each airline a berth at Tokyo Haneda in the lead-up to the Tokyo's 2020 Olympic Games, on the basis that flights began by March 29, 2020.

Qantas opted to have its Melbourne-Tokyo service move from Tokyo's distant Narita Airport to Haneda Airport, while Virgin Australia chose to open a fresh Brisbane-Tokyo route and forge a new partnership with Japan's ANA.

The COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent Australian border closure threw those plans into disarray, forcing Virgin to scrap its Brisbane-Tokyo inaugural just weeks before takeoff.

In two resolutions published today, the IASC notes that "due to the COVID-19 pandemic impacts, including current travel restrictions put in place by the Australian Government in March 2020," both Qantas and Virgin Australia have "not been able to commence the new services to and from Tokyo-Haneda."

Each airline has also "requested the issue of a resolution extending the date for utilisation of the capacity from 31 October 2020 to 31 October 2021, or such other date as subsequently approved by the Commission."

Pushback on restart dates

While the IASC has formally declared that the new Tokyo Haneda routes must be flown "from no later than 31 March 2021", Executive Traveller understands that the commission will meet with representatives of Qantas and Virgin Australia in early 2021 to consider a further extension.

That decision will be shaped by the government's own forecast of travel restrictions for 2021 as well as each airline's plans to resume flights between Australia and Japan.

Qantas CEO Alan Joyce has previously suggested that with some exceptions such as New Zealand, the airline is unlikely to resume international travel until the second half of 2021.

COVID-safe 'travel bubbles' with selected countries in Asia – among them Singapore, Japan and Taiwan – and the uptake of vaccines could see those flights resume sooner rather than later.

Also read: Australian approval of Pfizer vaccine expected next month

Virgin needs Tokyo-ready planes

Qantas could reboot its Asian routes relatively quickly with either Airbus A330 or Boeing 787 jets.

However, the decision by Virgin Australia's new owner Bain Capital to scrap the Airbus A330 jets earmarked for Brisbane-Tokyo has left Virgin without any suitable aircraft in its fleet – meaning that Bain would need to either lease or buy jets to take up the route.

Although Virgin's short-term focus is on domestic routes, the airline has previously maintained that international travel remains on the to-do list.

Before collapsing into administration in April 2020, Virgin flew Boeing 777 jets from Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane to Los Angeles, and had axed its Airbus A330 flights from Sydney and Melbourne to Hong Kong in favour of the new Brisbane-Tokyo route.

"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," a Virgin Australia spokesman told Executive Traveller.

David

David Flynn is the Editor-in-Chief of Executive Traveller and a bit of a travel tragic with a weakness for good coffee, shopping and lychee martinis.

14 Oct 2016

Total posts 87

I'm not sure how Virgin would be able to operate this, maybe a wet lease from ANA or a flight from Cairns.

If Virgin wanted to restart these flights ASAP then it would probably need to arrange a lease from ANA, unless it can do back to one of its former A330 lessors and ask to borrow one of its old A330s! But really I think Virgin is going to be an Australian-only airline for a long while now. Maybe NZ, if there's demand, but Virgin can do that with its Boeing 737s of course. But Japan? The AU-JA market will not magically reappear at its pre-COVID 2019 levels. Fortunately Virgin's choice of Brisbane-Tokyo had only one competitor in Qantas, but restarting international flying is a big job, Virgin would be smarter just to ask the IASC if it can get ANA onto this route somehow, otherwise just wipe its hands of Tokyo and focus on beating Qantas in its own Aussie backyard.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

04 Nov 2017

Total posts 270

ANA will have to 'operate for VA' under a wetlease arrangement if VA 'wants'  to keep that slot,  otherwise they have no choice but to give the slot up.  My money at this stage is at the 'later' (slot given up)

If QF doesn't want the slot either, which could be on a 50/50 basis at this stage (on the back of Joyce's comments that international travel doesn't start rebuilding out of Australiauntil mid-late 2021) then it's likely it could transferred back to the Japanese authorities, where they could allocate it to either JL or NH. 

12 Dec 2012

Total posts 1004

The slots won't be transferred back to Japan.

Hanada international slots are allocated by Japan on a national basis with 50% of slots given to Japanese airlines to operate from HND to that nominated country and 50% given to the nominated country to operate to HND.

A total of 6 slot pairs have been given to the AU-JP Hanada route. 2 for HND night hours (QF + NH SYD-HND) and 4 for HND day hours (JL SYD, NH SYD, QF MEL, VA BNE).

If the Australian half of the slot allocation is not used by an Australian airline, the slots simply won't be used.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

07 Aug 2013

Total posts 214

Could VA not just interline/codeshare with ANA on Brisbane  - Haneda and have ANA service the route using their slot until such a time they want their 787? 

17 Jun 2020

Total posts 195

Hopefully if VA cannot start straight away ANA can operate the flight until Virgin are ready. 

Jetstar Airways - Qantas Frequent Flyer

24 Aug 2018

Total posts 83

Regardless of a desperate need to fly, common sense would dictate either a vaccine shot or a couple of demonstrably safe bubbles to Singapore, Taiwan or Japan. Since escaping from South America in Feb. 2020, waiting for then next recreational international trip until the second half of 2021 is going to feel like Melbourne during the Great Lock Down of 2020. I am certain Hokkaido would be fabulous.

09 Aug 2015

Total posts 64

There's almost zero chance that VA can be ready to fly to Tokyo this year with its own aircraft, and I don't think it should be allowed to hang onto that Haneda slot "just because" and until it has the right aircraft, which might be 2022 or 2023 or never. If VA can't fly Brisbane-Haneda by whatever date it agrees to with the IASC then Virgin should lose the slot and it can be given to Qantas. The only alternative I can see would be for the slot to be given to ANA, which the Japanese authorities would need to approve.

Virgin needs to fly to Japan, but will have to do it in some other aircraft. Surely they can have an arrangement similar to that with Alliance, who look like they'll be operating all Virgin flights to Canberra in jets, not turboprops.

Must be 100s of airlines who would do Japan route on Virgins behalf & most of them would be better than Qantas & also cheaper.

20 Oct 2015

Total posts 106

If Bain is willing and thinks the numbers stack up then it will either lease a suitable aircraft or try to get ANA onto the route. I think the former is problematic if you consider the costs plus the need to get suitably rated pilots and crew. The only other option would be to take back at least one of the Boeing 777s which Virgin owns but ditched in its 737-only 'streamlining'. At least VA could tap into its B777-rated employee base, assuming not all of them have been let go, or they would try to hire them back. But a Boeing 777 would be way oversized for Brisbane-Tokyo at the best of times, it'd probably be oversized for Sydney-Tokyo in normal times, and these are NOT normal times. On the plus side if an Australia-Japan travel bubble opens up I think a lot of people would be wanting to escape the national lockdown and head overseas, Virgin might even be able to get its loyal passengers to fly up from SYD and MEL to connect to the BNE flight. So maybe if it offers low enough fares it could get a decent load and make decent revenue. But it's still a more complex option than just lobbying to have ANA take on the route.

hundreds of suitable aircraft, either boeing 777s (-200s or -300s) or airbus 330s (-200s or -300s) are parked all over the world.

1000s of crews, sitting idle, many of whom will work for nothing, initially to maintain their ratings.

Many airlines will move aircraft to wherever & crews will follow to get work.

Bain could easily find a great airline to operate the route & just put a virgin code on it.

Am sure Bain could go to one of a 100 hotels in Australia & say we need accommodation for x number of crews & they could get rooms, meals very very cheaply at least for next year or 3.

20 Oct 2015

Total posts 106

Bain doesn't have to go looking at hundreds of suitable aircraft, B777s or A330s, parked all over the world. It has six leased A330s of its own, and staff or ex-staff fully trained on those aircraft and familiar with its seating etc, which it could always try to re-lease. And it has four fully-owned B777s sitting at Toowoomba Wellcamp Airport, and staff or ex-staff also on hand as needed. Why complicate things with some 'worldwide search'?

No the A330s have all been returned to lessors apparently. Where they are parked is not relevant.

Are the 777-300Ers still fully owned ? Not sure.

For international services Virgin could use Asian crews or crews from anywhere.

eg.

Nok Scoot used to fly B772s owned by Singapore Airlines. There crews are basically unemployed at present.

Unfortunately, Australian crews are VERY expensive. Even accommodating overseas crews & feeding them would be much much cheaper.

08 Feb 2018

Total posts 114

The only reason VA has this slot is due to their former policy of chasing whatever Qantas did. Look where that ended up. If they can't operate it asap then hand the slot back and follow your own growth policies, not Qantas'. I'm not sure that Tokyo would be the best international destination to reopen with for VA, perhaps start with a clearly more profitable route like the US.

Tui
Tui

25 Feb 2017

Total posts 6

I agree.. The LA routes were making a profit.. Japan is a risk..

Virgin Australia - Velocity Rewards

10 Jan 2012

Total posts 270

I think we'll see a VA 787 flying to HND before the end of 2021.

Based on what insight? I can't see Bain rushing out to buy or even lease Boeing 787-9s barely 12 months after they have taken onwership of Virgin, by the end of 2021 Virgin will still be struggling to make its way back on the domestic market.

It will have a smaller 737 fleet which means a smaller network and perhaps lower flight frequency on some routes. It will have closed six lounges, reducing its appeal to many travellers in areas where Qantas has lounges. It will find it hard to compete against Qantas on east-west routes especially for business class because Qantas has the A330s while Virgin has only the Boeing 737s.

Virgin has reportedly already lost a lot of high-spending corporate clients to Qantas, because of those reasons plus uncertainty over VA2 and lack of detail over its 'new business class proposition'. VA will also be facing Rex on Sydney-Melbourne-Brisbane, with Rex also adopting the same mjd-market lower-price 'value' position as VA2.

Put all that together and VA will be in no shape to afford taking on any new international aircraft.

this is a bit out of left field, but could a Virgin painted B777-300ER be operated by a foreign airline with much lower costs (who already have B777s in their fleet) ?

So Virgin flight number but not Virgin operated, or Australian registration ?

Tui
Tui

25 Feb 2017

Total posts 6

Virgin still has 2 x B777s on the books.. So if you connect the dots..?

TUI

A sub-fleet of 2 aircraft simply doesn't work.

Tui
Tui

25 Feb 2017

Total posts 6

I appreciate that.. but if your only need is to start flying BNE-HND a couple of times a week by March to hold on to your license - it’s a handy strategic reserve that reactivated VAI crew can quickly update on - until you work out a more sustainable model..

So today Virgin Australia CEO Jayne Hrdlicka came out and said "we won’t go straight back to wide-body flying in the next 18-24 months", as reported at https://www.executivetraveller.com/news/virgin-australia-ceo-usa-japan-flights-unlikely-until-late-2022

That means Virgin won't have aircraft to fly BNE-HND by October 2021, and they'd be lucky to have them by a year after that, realistically it could be more like 2023.

When asked about Tokyo Hrdlicka talked about relying on partners, which means ANA, so I think VA's only realistic option for late 2021 is to wet lease arrangement via ANA. But you can bet Qantas will dispute that. Qantas wanted both Haneda slots when they were put up for grabs, it was fair to split them between Qantas and Virgin at the time but Virgin can't expect to hang onto that Haneda slot for another 1-2 years when it happens to have the right aircraft.

Anyway, after COVID there's probably going to be a lot more slots available at Haneda so maybe Virgin can apply for one when it has its own aircraft.

Etihad - Etihad Guest

19 Mar 2018

Total posts 65

You people are lacking in imagination.

It will be a VS operated, JV marketed service from Hong Kong and Los Angeles via Brisbane, and eventually, other Virgin Atlantic destinations, with VA marketing and VS operated crews.

Surveys suggest that VA and QF widebody service is too similar while passengers aren't getting the Virgin vibe they ought to be receiving.

This will allow VS to operate a global network even though UK will not have the traffic to support it for a long while. Qantas can't argue or fight this because it's exactly the thing they're doing with the foreign Jetstars and local Jetstars.

12 Dec 2012

Total posts 1004

VS is going to operate a VA BNE-HND service from HKG?

VS does not have the traffic rights to operate JP-AU routes, especially not a nation specific route like HND-BNE as a carrier of a 3rd nation.

For VS to even be able to operate a BNE-HND route, they would need to come up with a lease agreement with VA like the old Braniff domestic US Concorde flights in the late 1970s, a simple joint venture and codeshare isn't enough.

Also, as it stands now, VS doesn't have any HND slots. BA has the UK allocation of HND slots, meaning that VS can't operate a flight on LHR-HND, then fly HND-BNE under a VA lease arrangement. They'd have to fly from LHR to BNE via some other Asian port, then active a VA lease for BNE-HND-BNE. Such an arrangement would require 1-2 extra aircraft for VS, which isn't a very good use of equipment.

yes Levinn, there is surely some way VA can use foreign aircraft/crews to operate an international route. The world has changed, concessions have to be made.

We don't want only qantas operating routes such as BNE/LAX.


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