When will Virgin Australia swoop on new Boeing 787 jets?

Virgin will need to claim its place in the queue for new Boeing jets, in readiness of a restart for US and Tokyo flights.

By David Flynn, September 15 2020
When will Virgin Australia swoop on new Boeing 787 jets?

With airlines around the world delaying the delivery of new aircraft in order to conserve their cash, Virgin Australia could find the time is right – and the price is right – to place an advance order for the Boeing 787 Dreamliners with which it intends to relaunch long-range travel.

Under new owners Bain Capital and in the face of COVID-led border closures, Virgin shed its Airbus A330 and Boeing 777 jets to become, in the short term, a domestic-only airline built around the Boeing 737.

But Bain is backing the plan of airline CEO Paul Scurrah to restart its routes to Los Angeles and Tokyo “when sufficient demand returns” with the economic benefits of a single type of aircraft – the fuel-efficient Boeing 787.

Virgin Australia has settled on the Boeing 787 Dreamliner for its new long-range fleet.
Virgin Australia has settled on the Boeing 787 Dreamliner for its new long-range fleet.

"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 has previously noted.

"We do think it will be a very slow recovery in the international sector… but we have no belief that we will struggle to get the aircraft to fly those routes.”

In terms of size and the number of seats offered, Virgin Australia would find the Boeing 787-9 hits a sweet spot between the large Boeing 777-300ER and the more mid-sized Airbus A330. 

Virgin’s initially proposed order was said to be for eight Boeing 787s, which would replace its six Airbus A330s (most of which flew domestic east-west routes, along with the aborted Hong Kong and Tokyo services) and five Boeing 777-300ERs (dedicated to the trans-Pacific corridors between Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane and LAX).

Virgin's new Boeing 787s may also need a new business class seat.
Virgin's new Boeing 787s may also need a new business class seat.

Brendan Sobie, analyst at Singapore-based Sobie Aviation, suggests that the current climate of airlines pushing back on orders makes this “certainly a buyer's market.”

“For new aircraft, there are plenty of available slots in the near future,” Sobie tells Executive Traveller, although he cautions that as the market “is likely to remain soft for some time, Virgin Australia should not be compelled to make any commitments this year.”

Virgin will also enjoy some leverage on its $2.5 billion contract for 48 of Boeing’s troubled 737 MAX jets – the first of which is still due in July 2021 – with the possibility that some or even all of the order could be swung over to the Boeing 787.

However, “it would be sensible for Virgin Australia to wait a while in deciding on whether to reuse its MAX deposits for Boeing 787s,” Sobie says.

“It could always use these deposits for a new or renegotiated MAX order as Virgin Australia will eventually need to replace its Boeing 737-800s and resume narrow-body growth.”

Don't expect this swish inflight bar to reappear on Virgin's Dreamliners.
Don't expect this swish inflight bar to reappear on Virgin's Dreamliners.

The new shape of trans-Pacific business class

Rival Qantas doesn’t expect to resume long-rang international flights until mid-2021, with a return to the USA likely to be an end-of-year proposition.

"We believe the earliest we're going to see the international borders opening up is the middle of next year," Qantas Group CEO Alan Joyce remarked at a media briefing following the airline's revelation of a $2.7 billion loss for the 2020 financial year.

“With the US, with the level of prevalence there it's probably going to take some time and probably going to need a vaccine before we could see that happening," Joyce elaborated.

"Countries like the US may be the first country to have widespread use of that vaccine, so that could mean that the US is seen as a market by the end of 2021.”

When Virgin Australia does recommence flights between Australia and Los Angeles, here’s what it’ll likely be going up against in terms of business class.

With its Airbus A380s now sitting in storage until at least 2023, Qantas will really on the Boeing 787 Dreamliner – fitted out with the latest generation of the airline’s Business Suite business class –  as its international workhorse.

Qantas’ partner American Airlines usually flies a Boeing 787-9 between Sydney and Los Angeles, although this at times has been swapped for the Oneworld member’s flagship Boeing 777-300ER.

Ironically, American’s Boeing 787-9s have the same model business class seat as Virgin Australia used to fly…

… while American’s Boeing 777 business class is also familiar, but this time to regular business travellers on Cathay Pacific.

United Airlines continued to upgrade its own Boeing 787s, which fly from Sydney and Melbourne to Los Angeles, with the latest Polaris business class cribs.

Virgin’s US joint venture partner Delta Air Lines boasts Delta One business class suites with sliding privacy doors.

Also read: How Virgin Australia plans to win back business travellers

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.

26 May 2016

Total posts 16

Another advantage of this impeding order will be the return of Virgin Australia's 'The Business' on routes from Australia's transcontinental routes. Virgin operating Dreamliner's on PER<>MEL<>LAX similar to Qantas operating MEL<>PER<>LDN is an option they never had with 777's (too big) and 330's (too small).

09 Aug 2015

Total posts 55

There's no evidence that these new Boeing 787s will have 'The Business', and there's no indication that Virgin will do the same flying pattern as Qantas. Qantas' 787 flying pattern with the transcon and international legs was designed for maximum aircraft utilisation because Qantas has international flights out of both the east and west coasts, so the same aircraft could fly London-Perth-Melbourne-Los Angeles. Virgin doesn't have that, it just runs point-to-point flights such as Sydney-LAX. As nice as it would be to see a Virgin 787-9 doing PER-SYD-LAX for example I doubt that'll happen.

AJW
AJW

16 Nov 2011

Total posts 581

There is no impending order. 

And virgin won’t be ordering anytime soon for all the reasons other airlines are cancelling and delaying orders. 

24 Aug 2011

Total posts 808

I doubt Bain will be looking to do too much regarding an international fleet until the domestic situation settles down.  Their primary objective is to profitably restart domestic operations and that is still problematic with border closures etc.

There is no rush in ordering 787s; Boeing will have plenty of slots for the next few years as well as lessors with unplaced aircraft and airlines or former airline' liquidators needing to resell fleets.

Virgin certainly doesn't need to rush in with this order BUT it still needs to put in an order for the Boeing 787-9s at some stage because of the gap between signing an order and taking delivery of the aircraft. Even if Virgin can slide into some of the vacant slots left by airlines which are delaying their orders there's still the need to work out the cabin interior, especially the seats, which need to be selected and customised to whatever extent with finishes, Virgin colours etc, and then fitted. Plus Virgin needs to get pilots trained up on the 787-9 unless it plans to hire pilots who are already certified. So Virgin has to be planning ahead for all of this, it can take at least 12 months. If it wanted to begin flying to the US in say the middle of 2022 it would probably need to place an order in the next 6-9 months, and if Boeing is keen to do a deal soon and Virgin also wants to delay the 737 MAX order due middle of 2021 then realistically they will be talking NOW.

31 Mar 2014

Total posts 344

There is also no reason that Virgin has to buy new. There is going to be plenty of airlines willing to sell surplus planes at quite attractive prices.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

04 Nov 2017

Total posts 259

Alternatively there are also the "rumoured surplus" JQ 788s, should QF decides that some (or most) of the JQ 788s are 'surplus' to the QF groups' future post-COVID requirements.

Those "rumours" came pre-COVID with AJ casually mentioning in the media that the QF group were looking at offloading 3 of the JQ 788s (in conjunction with JQ pulling the HNL flight availability from April prior to COVID).

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

04 Nov 2017

Total posts 259

Saying the above, I can't see VA/Bain seriously looking at the JQ 788s if QF decided the JQ 788s be 'surplus' to the group's post-COVID requirements (Most of the JQ 788 flying was planned to be replaced with the A321LR/XLRs prior to COVID).  

IMHO, my guess is that VA/Bain will be looking at either trading off the existing 737MAX deposits for new 787-9s and/or looking for second-hand 787-9s elsewhere.

24 Aug 2011

Total posts 808

I can't imagine it either.  The JQ 788s are not set up for long-haul and Bain isn't interested in helping QF out of its problem.  Your suggestion in swapping MAX orders if definitely an option as is picking up a fleet from an airline looking to downsize of which there are probably a lot eg LATAM, Thai etc.

The Jetstar 787-8s don't have a proper crew rest area, this saved money on the purchase and also was better suited for Jetstar's longest flights which I think were to Honolulu. Plus the 787-8 doesn't have the range of the 787-9 needed for LAX.

15 May 2016

Total posts 6

Correct on the crew rest.

Incorrect on the range. It is lighter and carries the same amount of fuel which means it can go farther.

05 Mar 2015

Total posts 113

Boeing 787-8 range is actually a little less than the 787-9, it's 13,620km versus 14,140km. But SYD-LAX is 12,050km so within range of both.

15 May 2016

Total posts 6

I’ve flown both so your comment is incorrect. Fill both up with max fuel and the lighter 8 will go further than the heavier 9. Now you can’t fit 335 pax plus full fuel in an 8 so you would have to reconfigure the interior to carry less people than the 9. That is pretty natural for a premium configuration in a shorter aircraft.

But Virgin wants Boeing 787s and not many airlines will be selling off their 787s, most airlines are selling older jets and hanging onto the newer fuel efficient ones.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

25 Mar 2014

Total posts 221

Totally agree

Virgin Australia - Velocity Rewards

24 Aug 2011

Total posts 773

VA2 is in survival mode. Why on earth would they wind up for another aircraft type right now, or in the next six to twelve months? Instead of fantasising about 789s to PER, wonder how long the business can last if the current financial  and travel conditions don't change.

if all domestic & most international borders aren't open by week before Xmas, as suggested by Hunt & co, then might not be many airlines left.

There must be a million or more Australians booked for fly domestically &/or internationally in December-January school holidays.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

07 Aug 2013

Total posts 203

@johnaboxall - right now speculation about 789s to PER for maximum aircraft useage has as much chance as suggesting virgin will collapse given current financial and travel conditions. It's all just speculation. Virgin are probably In a better financial position the most airlines given their debt has been wiped and backed by a multi billion dollar head company that I'm sure has done it's due diligence on how long the market could take to recover and how much money or would need to pump in before a profit can be turned. 

Whats to say Virgin Australia in years to come won't go down route of Virgin Atlantic and expand international presence. Something previous VA were not able to do given their financial situation. They would potentially have long range aircraft, the money to invest in new markets and establishing itself as a stronger airline.

Regarding business class, I don't expect Virgin will be in a position to re-use The Business seats from the A330s and B777s without perhaps new certification? It might be cheaper and easier just to get new business class seats from a Boeing-approved 'linefit' supplier so these seats can be installed as the 787 is being built. Obviously Virgin could go back to Collins Aerospace which supplied the 'Super Diamond' seat on which The Business was based, but don't overlook the new Adient Aerospace JV between Boeing and Adient. Adient has a business class seat design called the Ascent, Hawaiian Airlines is the launch customer on its own Boeing 787-9s so Adient might offer Virgin a very attractive deal on the Ascent.

think all this talk of 787 is insane.

VA2 surely won't be leasing/buying any aircraft except maybe some B738s in the next few years.

The big issue is really that BNE/LAX is down to one airline, qantas. Think we may see some seasonal flights by other international airlines. Many people might want to go to USA but won't want to pay qantas's no competition prices, so that leaves via New Zealand, with some reasonable connections.

Previous connections via NAN to LAX have been 5 hours 5 days a week. The other 2 BNE/NAN flights were red eyes.

No one seriously wants to go via Asia to USA/Canada, unless they have business in Asia. The Chinese however, are known for dumping some seats at insanely low prices, like they are doing now domestically to get aviation moving.

Talk of a Virgin 787 is far from insane, airlines need to place their order a long time before delivery, that's just the nature of the industry. Especially as Virgin already has orders for the 737 MAX 10 in play and delivery is supposed to be around the middle of 2021, this of course won't be happening so Boeing and Virgin will need to make some announcement to the market about that, so it makes sense actually that this announcement would encompass adjusting the 737 MAX order and also Virgin committing to the B787 with deliveries from early to mid 2022 for example.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

25 Mar 2014

Total posts 221

Most  airline cancelling orders..

Surely April fools

05 Mar 2015

Total posts 113

Airlines aren't cancelling their orders for Boeing 787s, they are just delaying the delivery of them for a few years because they simply don't need new aircraft right now.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

25 Mar 2014

Total posts 221

Pretty sure a lot have been cancelled either based on covid or the delay on delivery

Sell which ever way you want but the aviation industry is in a world of hurt.

Etihad - Etihad Guest

23 May 2019

Total posts 5

There was an Air Canada BNE-YVR flight ... assuming it resumes that'll provide some competition to Qantas.

don't think qantas has ever flown BNE/YVR nonstop. Canada 3000 flew it direct BNE/YVR same aircraft via HNL.

No one in BNE wants to go via awful SYD to get anywhere. Adds 5 or more hours in each direction if going to North America.

22 Sep 2017

Total posts 39

Personally I’d take a transit anywhere in Asia to avoid LAX, unless LA is my final destination.  Even worse would be via both SYD and LAX, what a nightmare.

just heard about some proposed charter flights from USA mainland to Australia in high season. Not sure if that means summer or winter.

I think Virgin should reallocate the MAX deposits towards the 787s. When it comes to replacing the narrowbody fleet down the line, I'd suggest they switch to A220s. That would allow them to provide a substantial improvement over QF's narrowbody hard product, and allow them to serve a wider variety of smaller destinations around Australia and NZ.

Not to mention, the groundings and crashes have damaged the MAX brand.

Virgin is NOT going to buy the Airbus A220, you are seeing this from the perspective of an aviation enthusiast and not somebody who runs a business and needs to return a profit. Not only is the A220 very expensive, much more so than the B737, but it's not as big so would be less suitable for the sort of loads which Virgin needs on the major routes, plus you then need to get ALL your pilots and crew retrained from the B737 to the A220. And very few passengers would actually care about the internal difference between the B737 and the A220. Yes, the MAX brand is damaged, but Boeing can and probably will rebrand it. A lot of people will of course still know that the new B737 is still a MAX by some other name. But suggesting that Virgin move from the B737 to an A220 just doesn't make sense.

slightly off topic, but if a 737 is too big for a virgin route, surely they just get alliance to operate route, with a fokker jet or the E190s. Anyone know what seat configuration will be on the Allaince E-190s ? Air Kitibati have 12C+ 64Y from memory, which doesn't sound like many seats.

VA2 won't be getting any A220s for decades, if ever. Think the owned B738s & B737-700s will be kept until they reach their life limit & then they will be parted out for parts for other owned B737s.

No other airline is going to be buying them, at least at any reasonable prices.

11 Jul 2020

Total posts 59

I think if Virgin aims for a 2022 return to the international scene that will be a safe bet. I switched from Virgin to Qantas 3 years ago when flying mainly to the USA. The food quality on Virgin went downhill on their international flights. But I will switch back to Virgin especially if they get Dreamliner for their international routes and hopefully, the food offering under new management will improve. The Braised beef offer by Qantas for dinner is to die for IMHO.

I know Qantas have Dreamliners, but I'm getting a bit fed up booking to fly on a Dreamliner only to be bumped over to the A380. The A380's are getting a bit long in the tooth and have a lot of creaks and moans now no matter if you sit in the upper of the lower deck when I have traveled on them.

I prefer Boeing aircraft myself and to fly with Virgin Australia.

Virgin Australia - Velocity Rewards

24 Jan 2018

Total posts 369

I feel your pain.

15 May 2016

Total posts 6

A220s or 787s? I don’t think so. Their aim is to make money. They used to make money with an all 737 fleet. They should focus on that. All of the problems started when they lost site of their niche and started a pissing contest with other types and widebodies etc.

a bit off topic, but VA2 have yet to tell which 737 pilots will keep their jobs & at what pay. Will they have to go through an interview ? Approx 1/3 to 1/4 will not be employed by new entity, so those that don't get a job with VA2, willhave a chance of getting a job at Rex, but VA2, will probably drag their feet, so Rex can't find ec VA 737 pilots until much later.

Virgin Australia - Velocity Rewards

24 Aug 2011

Total posts 773

Rex can find as many qualified B737 pilots as they need in about fifteen minutes. There isn't a global shortage of native-English speaking 737 pilots. 

05 Mar 2015

Total posts 113

Virgin has already let go of all its NZ-based crew, which flew the Boeing 737, so all of those would already be knocking on Rex's door I am sure.

Kiwis would have heart failure when they realise the cost of living in SYD. Obviously much cheaper living in BNE.

yes but rex would prefer Australians. Problem with that is they are probably going to be paying a lot less than qantas or virgin did & lot less perks, like international travel, although it wouldn't be hard to find any international partners. Do rex have a frequent flyer programme ?

all this talk of 787s, but didn't VA own 4 of their B773s ?

Surely, no one is going to buy these for any decent amount ?

Wouldn't they be better offering VA1 B773 pilots a part time position, where they could fly a lot less than they were & instead of doing BNE, SYD & MEL to LAX just do one city or even 2 to 3 days a week only ?

SYD/LAX seems to have plenty of options, MEL/LAX less & without VA1, BNE/LAX is only qantas.

24 Aug 2011

Total posts 808

VA, like QF, are pretty certain proper US passenger services won't recommence until the end of 2021 at the earliest.  Bain is restructuring VA to be a domestic airline so the 777s have no place.  They were arguably always a little too big for VA's needs so have been written down as part of the administration process and will generate whatever they do as they are sold or scrapped.  VA doing international routes other than NZ and Bali is years away, if ever.  The 777s aren't needed and won't be; a 787 order may be needed but not for another year or oso.

Reeves35

where do you get this stuff from or are you just making it up as you go ?

"VA, like QF, are pretty certain proper US passenger services won't recommence until the end of 2021 at the earliest."

Am sure there will be many international flights ex Australia, once restrictions lifted Dec 17. If you can't fly qantas direct to usa, you might have to go via NZ/Fiji/Asia. Doubt if qantas will let that happen.

Scomo is having major pressure put on him right now & Libs will have to cave soon or they won't get any election funding.

AJW
AJW

16 Nov 2011

Total posts 581

He gets that stuff from the words and actions of the Qantas CEO. He doesn’t expect there to be any international flying (except maybe NZ) this side of the middle of next year at the earliest and doesn’t expect there to be any great return to services hence why he is parking up the bulk of their long haul fleet. 

As for 17th December whilst the border closure has been extended to then it doesn’t mean that is the date the borders will reopen as has happened in the past it can be extended and as we discussed last week brought forward if need be. 

I don’t expect to see them open in any meaningful way until at least the middle of next year. The issue will be all around the requirement to hotel quarantine which even for international flights is controlled by the states. And look at the mess that is causing at the moment. 

joyce is playing games. Of course qantas will fly int after dec 17, if other airlines are with no silly restrictions or stupid quarantine. Quarantine in a hotel with others is the place to catch corona.

05 Mar 2015

Total posts 113

Reeves is referring to Alan Joyce's statement about Qantas AU-US flights restarting at the end of 2021, which is cited in this article. While I don't know that Virgin has made any similar forecast, so saying they're "pretty certain" is not accurate, there is no reason to assume Virgin would have a different take on the restart of AU-US services. I don't think VA will restart its LA flights until after Qantas, which would be mean sometime in 2022 at the earliest.

"Am sure there will be many international flights ex Australia, once restrictions lifted Dec 17. " Who said the international travel restrictions will lift on December 17? That might be the date to which they are currently gazetted but there is no reason to think they will suddenly stop and the borders will all open up just like they were before COVID. And when the borders do open up it will probably be only to certain countries where COVID is under control by then, like NZ, Singapore, Japan, based on the Government's SmartTraveller classifications. Some countries will be okay to visit without quarantine, for others you might need to do 14 day hotel quarantine on your return.

"If you can't fly qantas direct to usa, you might have to go via NZ/Fiji/Asia. Doubt if qantas will let that happen." United, American and Delta are either flying SYD-LAX now or will be in the next few months, but for Qantas it will all come down to how many Australians are keen to go to the USA, and judging by the mess it's made of COVID I think not many people will be rushing to the US.

Etihad - Etihad Guest

19 Mar 2018

Total posts 61

Why do people think Virgin Australia will order widebodies for transpacfiic flights?

Australia, you said goodbye to the world. You closed the doors. This will have massive consequences on the economy. For one, if we were to resrart everything, Australia will be the economic strength of Malaysia or Taiwan only, with a correspondingly significantly weaker currency. There's no thousands of Australians wanting to go anywhere. Heck, you'd be poorer than Southeast Asians. This is why the Australian domestic market is being untangled, and separated from the minig industry. Kargoorlie, Karratha, Broome, Kunnurura, Tamworth, etc activity has ceased cos they're just about empty. So these places have opportunities to be turned into cities.

Stop thinking USA.

The most critical, is for Australia and New Zealand to reopen, restablish links, and not just rrely on travel bubbles. COVID19 is no longer that severe in your neighborhood. It's just that there were more micro Asian communities than expected, so the news on the need to social distance and stuff was not communicated to these groups of people. I think once the numbers are included in the census, Melbourne will come out above Sydney as being more populated.

I want to go to USA, but won't be on virgin for years I think.

Don't have to go nonstop, as long as good connections, so that might mean Air NZ or Fiji air.

I read somewhere that many victorians want to move to Qld. Makes perfect sense & despite Qld having AFL grand final, not many qlders even follow that aerial ping pong game.

P1
P1

24 Apr 2017

Total posts 64

If its Boeing, I'm not going.

Think again Virgin.

16 Dec 2016

Total posts 45

It would be gross for Virgin Oz to be speculating on new aircraft after bankruptcy and defaulting on their financial obligations. I know it’s the system we have but I think that we need to remember that they have been given the chance to renegotiate all EBAs and dismiss debts so they should spend time running a viable domestic business before they consider new aircraft.  

I know it’s all just speculation but I genuinely feel for all the people and businesses they screwed over in this process. 

Cathay Pacific - Asia Miles

27 Nov 2012

Total posts 44

Interesting to note the comments on VA2 ordering B783’s, and their selection of Business Class seating. From my readings VA2 is trying to position itself above JQ, and just below QF in inflight offerings, which would probably mean off shelf J seating, and nice but not outstanding food offerings; however, pricing would probably be a thousand or so dollars cheaper, something Mr and Mrs average would appreciate, in comparison to Qf and the U.S. products. It will be interesting to watch Bain reconstruct VA2 over the next few years.

United Airlines - Mileage Plus

12 Sep 2011

Total posts 159

with the latest 787 woes???

Virgin Australia - Velocity Rewards

24 Jan 2018

Total posts 369

I read "Don't expect this swish inflight bar to reappear on Virgin's Dreamliners" with interest.  The 787s can easily accommodate a bar, evidence those of Virgin Atlantic's 787 Dreamliners.  If Virgin don't get the bar, their service and J-class seats will be pari passu with all others, and I'll be changing carriers.  Being able to walk to the bar for a few drinks and chat with other like-minded pax is great.  No bar and I might as well fly Singapore or Qatar.  

24 Aug 2011

Total posts 808

VA International is unlikely to fly anywhere where Singapore or Qatar are logical alternatives.

Virgin Australia - Velocity Rewards

24 Jan 2018

Total posts 369

True, but there are many routes to London.  :-)

24 Oct 2010

Total posts 2431

A number of comments which were solely regarding quarantine and related issues have been removed, in line with Executive Traveller's expressed desire to keep comments on topic.

why would virgin buy or lease 787s when they apparently own 4 of the 5 B773ers it used to operate. No one is going to buy them for any decent amount.

They have crew, aircraft & then just need passengers. Crews could be employed part time when international borders open & until things improved.

AJW
AJW

16 Nov 2011

Total posts 581

I’m not sure why there is talk of 787’s at this stage either, likewise talk of 777’s. 

Virgin Australia I had thought had made it clear their intention is to rebuild as a domestic/short haul airline using 737’s. 

Flying long haul is way down the track and is far more complex then lack of passengers due to border closures which is what you seem to be implying. 

yes 3 months before most international routes open (possibly without flights ex MEL & AVV) with any restrictions or quarantine.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

07 Aug 2013

Total posts 203

Its not that far down the track possibly 2022-2024 airlines need to plan ahead and could be looking now at what market prices are going for with surplus of aircraft ready to be leased not to mentioned future delivery slots that have been deferred ready to be taken up. VA at this stage are clear they want to return to intl market, just a matter of when.


Hi Guest, join in the discussion on When will Virgin Australia swoop on new Boeing 787 jets?