Virgin Australia axes Airbus A330s, Boeing 777s

Virgin ditches its biggest jets, and its best business class, to become a smaller Boeing 737-only airline.

By David Flynn, August 5 2020
Virgin Australia axes Airbus A330s, Boeing 777s

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 flagship business class, dubbed The Business, will vanish along with the Boeing 777s and Airbus A330s.
Virgin's flagship business class, dubbed The Business, will vanish along with the Boeing 777s and Airbus A330s.

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.

Virgin's flagship business class, dubbed The Business, will vanish along with the Boeing 777s and Airbus A330s.
Virgin's flagship business class, dubbed The Business, will vanish along with the Boeing 777s and Airbus A330s.

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.

Virgin Australia's Boeing 777 bar was a hit with trans-Pacific travellers.
Virgin Australia's Boeing 777 bar was a hit with trans-Pacific travellers.

"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."

Read more: Raising the bar on Virgin's new Boeing 777 business class experience

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.

Virgin Australia launched its flagship business class on the Airbus A330s in 2015.
Virgin Australia launched its flagship business class on the Airbus A330s in 2015.

Read more: How Qantas vs Virgin created the world's best domestic business class

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.

Qantas' A330 business class will now be the clear choice for most coast-to-coast corporate travellers.
Qantas' A330 business class will now be the clear choice for most coast-to-coast corporate travellers.

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."

Read more: Bain's blueprint for Virgin Australia 2.0 revealed

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.

20 Jun 2020

Total posts 16

Unfortunate but expected. VA ran one of the best J transcon experiences. Not looking forward to slumming it in a 737.

14 Feb 2015

Total posts 7

Far superior product to QF. Such a shame. I feel for all the staff who are likely unemployed for the longer term now. Brutal.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

07 Aug 2013

Total posts 203

Agreed but I'm hopeful a lot for crew has been picked up in other sectors. You'd be surprised at the number of crew from both qantas and virgin who have gained employment elsewhere these last 4 months or so - particularly at moment supporting hotel quarrantine which was a deal struck between unions and state governments.

31 Dec 2014

Total posts 32

I had a redemption booking for 2 in the business SYD-PER planned just as the pandemic hit. It was the start of a round the world J trip. All of which is now a distant memory.

28 Feb 2014

Total posts 18

VA business on 777 and A330 was always a personal favourite, as well as the PE product on the 777. Very sad to see this happen, but I guess it was inevitable. Glad the airline appears to be surviving.

08 Feb 2018

Total posts 104

So what? They'll sell the 777's at the bottom of the market, and buy new jets at the top of it??

I know the 330's were done for, but not sure I agree with the 777 decision.

Air New Zealand - Airpoints

21 Jan 2016

Total posts 195

Most likely that have done a deal with Boeing to take the B773s hence the noise about the B787 for future long haul travel.

Virgin Australia - Velocity Rewards

24 Jan 2018

Total posts 369

Is it possible to retrofit 2 or 4 737s with the business class suites from the 777-300s? How costly would it be? Doesn't seem all too costly but I'm sure there are complications.

If not, they might as well not bother offering a SYD-PER service at all.

Virgin Australia - Velocity Rewards

24 Jan 2018

Total posts 369

My family were booked to fly on Virgin's 777-300 ER to LAX next month - a holiday planned 2 years ago. Travel Credits are ready for use when that resumes. I hope VA can find space for the bar on 787s on the LAX route, without it they'll be no different to Qantas, Delta of United.

Well you know something, it's Adios Amigo Virgin Australia from me. Looks like after Bain Capital has bought out this airline, it's turned into one cheap nasty airline. For a start such a boring fleet of aircraft, Boeing 737s, such an old outdated aircraft but obviously Virgin are happy to be using them while other airlines are upgrading to the new Airbus A321 Neo's. This is going to get interesting in the future when peak period starts eg Perth to Sydney or Melbourne flights where they need to fill up their planes, cause the 737 does not carry as much passenger's as their previous A330s or 777. Look's like Qantas will be getting my business.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

27 Nov 2017

Total posts 24

But you're happy with Qantas' boring B737s?

08 Feb 2018

Total posts 104

I'm not sure how they're supposed to magic up a fleet that they don't already have!


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