Virgin Australia will go ahead with adding the troubled Boeing 737 MAX to its fleet, but has slashed its order for Boeing's next-gen jet by almost half and pushed back the first delivery by another two years.
The smaller Boeing 737 MAX 8, for which Virgin held 23 orders with deliveries from early 2025, has been scrubbed from the list.
However, Virgin will go ahead with its order for 25 of the larger and more flexible Boeing 737 MAX 10, which was unveiled only in late 2019 – although its original July 2021 delivery timeframe has been reset to mid-2023.
The combined deal for the MAX 8 and MAX 10 was worth US$6.17 billion at list prices, although airlines typically enjoy a steep discount of 40-60%.
Where Virgin will fly the 737 MAX 10
The MAX 10 has seating for around 200 passengers in a standard two-class layout, and 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 said today at a CAPA Centre for Aviation event.
"We have already moved to simplify our mainline fleet and committed to the Boeing 737 aircraft as the backbone of our future domestic and short-haul international operations," Hrdlicka said in a previously-issued statement.
“The restructured agreement and changes to the delivery schedule of the Boeing 737 MAX 10 gives us the flexibility to continually review our future fleet requirements, particularly as we wait for international travel demand to return."
Last week saw Boeing CEO David Calhoun rule out ditching the MAX name from the jet family, saying "there is no rebranding going on. There’s nothing cute going on.”
Front-page coverage of two deadly crashes involving the 737 MAX and its subsequent worldwide grounding has raised questions of how safe passengers will feel in setting foot onto a Boeing 737 MAX flown by any airline.
After being grounded for almost two years, aviation authorities are now approving the Boeing 737 MAX for take-off once again.
Virgin's back-and-forth on the MAX
Under long-time CEO John Borghetti, Virgin signed up for 25 of the top-end 737 MAX 10 with deliveries from July 2021, and 23 of the entry-level 737 MAX 8s from February 2025
However, one of the first calls by Borghetti's successor and recently-ousted CEO Paul Scurrah was to push back hand-over of the first Boeing 737 MAX from November 2020 to July 2021.
Virgin Australia has now rejigged its Boeing 737 MAX book six times since placing the initial order in July 2012.
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 since-aborted expansion into Asia.
"I'd say everything we've done product-wise has not been half-baked, and we would not put a product on transcon that was not up to scratch," Borghetti told Executive Traveller at the time.
Scurrah put Borghetti's 'Perth product' on the back-burner and by some reports sent it either back to the drawing board or into the rubbish bin.