Virgin Australia will return to the skies under new owners Bain Capital with a pared-back fleet of 56 Boeing 737 jets flying to an equally slimmed-down domestic network.
The airline’s workhorse Boeing 737 fleet numbered 85 before it collapsed into administration on April 21.
However, when demand lifts to pre-COVID levels, the airline aims to have more than 75 Boeing 737s parked in its hangars.
A ‘fleet and network update’ email sent by Virgin Australia Chief Operations Officer Stuart Aggs to all airline staff, and sighted by Executive Traveller, advises that the airline "has been successful in renegotiating the terms on 54 737-800 and two 737-700 aircraft, taking our total fleet size to 56 when we exit administration."
This "equates to roughly 75% of our pre-COVID domestic Boeing 737 capacity," Aggs noted, which "allows us to have a solid ramp-up plan when demand returns."
Room for growth
Aggs reiterated "we intend to grow the fleet to 75+ aircraft in the longer term", but said this expansion would be done on a "demand-led" basis "in order to effectively compete when demand returns."
"To do this, we’ll be taking advantage of the current aircraft market for used 737s. We expect to see opportunities to secure additional aircraft over the coming months when demand returns and we will actively monitor this."
Of the strategy to rebuild using pre-loved Boeing 737s, Aggs said it would "reduce the costs to the business, will make us more competitive and sustainable, and means we avoid holding costs of keeping the aircraft on the ground when we’re not using them."
A spokesman for the airline confirmed to Executive Traveller that "Virgin Australia will relaunch operations with 56 Boeing 737 aircraft as it exits administration, with the intention to grow its fleet to more than 75 aircraft once demand recovers."
Meanwhile, some of Virgin's former leased Boeing 737s – along with some former Virgin Boeing 737 pilots, flight attendants and engineers – are reportedly being scooped by up regional airline Rex as it presses ahead with plans to launch Boeing 737 flights between Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane.
As part of Bain’s restructure, Virgin has ditched other aircraft including its regional ATR-72 turboprops – which has resulted in several country routes being scrapped – along with the larger Airbus A330 and Boeing 777-300ER jets.
Aggs also said that Virgin Australia remains “in regular discussions” with Boeing about the troubled 737 MAX, for which the airline holds 48 orders with the first slated to arrive in July 2021.
“Given the circumstances we have been in regular discussions with Boeing about this order, and those discussions continue. We will keep you updated as these progress and plans are finalised.”