Virgin Australia's plans to resume overseas flights has met another stumbling block following the Federal Government's forecast that Australia's borders will remain largely closed until mid-2022.
After new owners Bain Capital rebooted the airline as a domestic-only operation in the face of subdued demand owing to COVID-induced travel restrictions, and retired its international Airbus A330 and Boeing 777 jets, Virgin and its followers were eager to see short-range overseas flights return.
However, Virgin opted not to take part in the trans-Tasman bubble between Australia and New Zealand starting April 19, saying it was taking "a more pragmatic approach" to both domestic and overseas flying – although it's understood the airline also faced a shortfall of aircraft due to a downsized Boeing 737 fleet that was some 25% smaller than when the airline entered administration.
At the time, Virgin slated "most New Zealand services" to bounce back from 31 October 2021, but the airline now says that most NZ destinations – including Auckland, Christchurch and Wellington – will remain off the map "until at least December 2021" due to an underwhelming uptake, says Virgin Australia Chief Strategy and Transformation Officer Alistair Hartley.
Queenstown flights still going ahead
The sole survivor is Queenstown, "where customers are looking to travel over the September school holidays and the upcoming summer. All other New Zealand services will be deferred for the time being."
Virgin's Sydney-Queenstown and Brisbane-Queenstown flights remain locked in from 18 September, with Melbourne-Queenstown following from 7 December.
Virgin had already pushed back a restart of NZ flights twice this year, first to March and then June.
“We are continually reviewing our network to respond to the latest advice, and importantly looking at whether we can restart short-haul international flying, including to New Zealand earlier, should travel demand improve and circumstances change," Hartley added.
Also on the cut list "for the time being": a return to Bali, Fiji, Vanuatu, Samoa and the Solomon Islands.
"We're being realistic about restarting short-haul international flying, and have today delayed services to the Pacific, and to Bali, Indonesia until at least December."
With domestic travel on the rise and new challenger Rex seeking its own slice of the inter-city jet market, Virgin says it is "continuing to review its domestic network to ensure it's responding to growth opportunities here in Australia."