Regional airline Rex could use some of Virgin's unwanted Boeing 737s to kick-start the regional airline's own flights between Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne.
The airline's ambitious play to spread its wings beyond regional routes and challenge Qantas and Virgin on the competitive 'triangle' market is set to launch in March 2021, but would rely on up to ten jets the calibre of the Airbus A320 or Boeing 737 compared to Rex's current all-turboprop fleet.
And the Sydney-based airline may not have to look very far to find those jets, with Virgin set to shed many of its leased Boeing 737s as it moves towards a slimmed-down model under the ownership of Bain Capital.
Virgin's pre-pandemic Boeing 737 fleet numbered 85 (including the jets assigned to its now-axed budget arm Tigerair), but it's understood that only around 40 of those are owned by the airline, leaving as many again of the workhorse single-aisle jets under lease – and they won't all be needed for the downsized Virgin Australia 2.0.
"How many we are taking through and how many we will need in the future is still a work in progress," Virgin Australia CEO Paul Scurrah remarked during a media briefing earlier this month.
"At the end of this pandemic, once we get back to pre-Covid FY19 levels, we see a market that could sustain us having 60-80 Boeing 737s in our fleet," Scurrah added, implying that the short-term 'reboot' fleet will be substantially lower.
From Virgin to Rex?
Several leasing firms – who are among the creditors for Virgin's outstanding $6.8 billion in debt when the airline collapsed into administration on April 21 – have reportedly been notified by Virgin that their Boeing 737s will no longer be needed.
According to The Financial Review, Rex is now in discussions with those companies about having as many as ten Boeing 737s transferred from Virgin's Brisbane hangars to its own.
The airline had previously said it would need "an initial fleet of five to ten narrow-body jet aircraft to be based out of Sydney and/or Melbourne to service the golden triangle (Sydney-Melbourne-Brisbane)."
In a prepared statement, a spokeswoman for Rex said "Rex has not confirmed its choice of aircraft to be used and is in active discussions with lessors from all over the world."
Taking over a slew of former Virgin Boeing 737s may not mean that Rex would keep the same business class cabin as the jets currently sport, however.
In announcing its plans earlier this year, Rex deputy chairman John Sharp indicated it its capital city flights would adopt a 'hybrid' model blending the Qantas and Jetstar offerings but with a lower cost base, saying "this will be halfway between a full-service airline and a low-cost airline."
That could translate into business class being replaced by a 'premium' cabin where the middle seat in a 3-3 layout remains free, along with a little extra legroom or recline compared to other economy seats. Rex and the aircraft leasing firm would need to agree on how the cabins would be refitted with new seating.
The airline says its capital city flights "will be priced at affordable levels but will also include baggage allowance, meals on board and pre-assigned seating."