Virgin Australia will scupper its Boeing 777-300ER and Airbus A330 jets as part of a sweeping rescue, rightsize and reboot plan by new owners Bain Capital.
The airline, which collapsed into administration on April 21 facing debts of $6.8 billion and a travel market gutted by the coronavirus pandemic, today confirmed that it would abandon long-range international travel for the foreseeable future and focus on the domestic market served by an all-Boeing 737 fleet.
"Long-haul international operations are an important part of the Virgin Australia business," the airline allowed, but said those flights would be "suspended until (the) global travel market recovers."
This leaves no room for the Airbus A330 or Boeing 777, both of which also boasted Virgin's flagship business class: a wide, comfortable cocoon with direct aisle access and a fully lie- flat bed.
Virgin's five Boeing 777-300ERs – four of which were fully owned, and one leased – tackled the trans-Pacific corridor with direct flights from Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane to Los Angeles.
As highly competitive as this route was – Virgin was up against Qantas, United Airlines, American Airlines and its own partner Delta Air Lines – the airline's business class was a solid contender, and was for some time the best business class between Australia and the USA.
The Boeing 777s were also fitted with a swish bar located between the two business class cabins where travellers could enjoy wines, beers, spirits, cocktails and snacks en route, and even breakfast on the before landing back in Australia.
"We wanted to create a space where you can really break out from the flight and your seat," explains Matt Round, Chief Creative Officer for London-based design agency Tangerine, which worked with Virgin Australia to create the new bar, which flanks the Boeing's main entry/exit zone: a space where airlines can't put much else, and certainly not seats.
"It's bit of residual space, so why waste it?” Round suggests. "It's such a great opportunity when you have this tube of aluminium packed full of people, to make the experience wonderful."
But the Boeing 777s are not alone in their premature retirement, with Virgin's six leased Airbus A330s al being handed back to their owners.
The A330s were originally rolled out on domestic coast-to-coast routes as the vanguard of Virgin Australia's battle with Qantas for premium business travellers, setting off a transcontinental turf war which if nothing else proved the value of competition.
Some A330s were more recently pressed into service on Virgin's failed services from Sydney and Melbourne to Hong Kong, with one slated to take on the new Brisbane-Tokyo route, which was suspended ten days before its March 29 launch as the full impact of Covid-19 pandemic became clear.
Without the Airbus A330s, Virgin will be able to offer only its regular Boeing 737 business class on the 4-6 hour journey between the east and west coast capital cities, leaving Qantas' own A330s with the Qantas Business Suite to mop up the bulk of business and corporate flyers.
Virgin Australia CEO Paul Scurrah expects that the return of international travel in volume remains some years away, although he says Virgin intends to restart flights to Los Angeles and Tokyo "when sufficient demand returns."
By then, Virgin will have an all-new international fleet, with Boeing 787 Dreamliners previously earmarked for both Asia and the USA.
"We did a lot of work pre-administration on replacing both those aircraft types with a more efficient, newer version of a wide-body," Scurrah elaborated as a media briefing following today's announcements.
"We do think it will be a very slow recovery in the international sector. 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... but we have no belief that we will struggle to get the aircraft to fly those routes."