Virgin Australia is keen to spread its wings and return to international flying when travel restrictions ease, with the airline mapping out the first destinations it plans to serve.
Predictably, New Zealand is top of the list – although a trans-Tasman ‘travel bubble’ has already been mooted and delayed several times, with NZ continuing to keep its borders closed to Australia – with destinations in Fiji and Indonesia also on the horizon.
“We are looking forward to short haul international flights coming back,” Virgin Australia CEO Jayne Hrdlicka told NCA NewsWire this month.
“It will be one of the first things we do. It will be anywhere where a (Boeing) 737 can fly, so that will include New Zealand, Fiji and Bali.”
Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, Virgin Australia served Nadi in Fiji; Bali/Denpasar in Indonesia; as well as Auckland, Christchurch, Dunedin, Queenstown and Wellington in New Zealand.
While Bali and Nadi primarily appeal to leisure customers, flights across the Tasman are in the crosshairs of business travellers too.
Virgin Australia’s Boeing 737s – as served all these destinations prior to COVID-19 border restrictions – offer eight business class recliners, 30 Economy X extra-legroom seats, and 138 standard economy seats.
Newer aircraft are needed for longer flights
For the nimble Boeing 737, routes like Sydney, Melbourne, or Brisbane to Denpasar/Bali are close to the jet’s maximum flying range with a full passenger and cargo load.
As Virgin Australia is now an all-737 airline, flying further afield isn’t currently an option: at least, without factoring in a fuel stop along the way, as rival Malindo Air had been doing with its Boeing 737 flights from Australia’s east coast to Kuala Lumpur, which detoured via Bali.
Prior to entering voluntary administration last year, Virgin Australia had been flying Airbus A330s to Hong Kong – and had planned to swing them onto Brisbane-Tokyo flights – as well as using Boeing 777s to the United States.
Both those aircraft types have now exited the Virgin Australia fleet, with either the Airbus A350 or the Boeing 787 a possible replacement for those long-distance routes, when the time is right.
“We did a lot of work pre-administration on replacing both those aircraft types (Airbus A330s and Boeing 777s) with a more efficient, newer version of a wide-body,” said Paul Scurrah in September 2020, then-CEO of Virgin Australia.
“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 (long distance) routes.”
As flights to Tokyo's Haneda Airport are limited by slot availability, both Qantas and Virgin Australia had previously requested extensions to their slots, to avoid losing flying rights to Tokyo's downtown airport.
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