Virgin Australia has started the countdown clock on the arrival of its first Boeing 737 MAX jet, now just shy of two years away from winging its way from Boeing's assembly centre at Renton, north of Seattle, to Virgin's Brisbane hangars.
It'll be the first Boeing 737 MAX operated by an Australian airline, with Qantas yet to decide if its own domestic refresh will stick with Boeing's new workhorse or shift to the Airbus A321neo family.
The MAX will also mark an evolution of Virgin's fleet and its passenger experience, with new business class and economy seats expected to debut on the next-gen jet.
In a statement issued to the media today, Virgin confirmed it had "commenced planning for the mid-2023 arrival of its first Boeing 737 MAX 10 aircraft."
The airline touts the jet as delivering "greater operational efficiencies and enhanced product and design features for customers and the environment."
Under former CEO John Borghetti, Virgin signed up for 23 of the smaller Boeing 737 MAX 8 and 25 of its 'big brother' Boeing 737 MAX 10.
However, newly-minted CEO Jayne Hrdlicka reshaped that order to scrap the MAX 8 in favour of the larger and more flexible Boeing 737 MAX 10, which began test flights in June this year.
The MAX 10 has seating for around 200 passengers in a standard two-class layout, and fly 3,300 nautical miles (about 6,000km) if outfitted with an auxiliary fuel tank.
Virgin intends to roster the jet on high-density domestic and short-range international routes, as well as routes facing "constraints due to slot availability limitations."
Sydney-Melbourne is perhaps the best example of this: in normal times, this corridor rates as one of the world's busiest domestic routes, with some 150 flights per day shuttling between the two cities, so larger aircraft trump smaller ones.
"It will do a great job for us transcontinental, it’ll do a great job for us in more traditional short-haul (than longer) international routes," Virgin Australia Group CEO Jayne Hrdlicka remarked at a CAPA Centre for Aviation event in December 2020.
Borghetti also saw the Boeing 737 MAX 10 as launchpad for Virgin's next-generation business class, reportedly a fully-flat bed which in July 2017 he said would deliver a "quantum leap in domestic business class", replacing Virgin's fleet of Airbus A330s when those jets spearheaded an ambitious but later-aborted expansion into Asia.
Borghetti's corner office successor Paul Scurrah put the 'Perth product' on the back-burner, and by some reports sent it either back to the drawing board or into the rubbish bin, which will only add to the interest in what the Hrdlicka-led and now privately-owned airline will roll out in two year's time.