Virgin Australia wants to begin flying to Japan and intends to bid for one of the two new routes between Australia and Tokyo/Haneda being offered to Australian airlines.
The move came hours after Qantas laid a claim to both of the Haneda openings – one for Sydney, the other for Melbourne.
If approved by Australia's International Air Services Commission, which is tasked with allocating the two Haneda openings, Virgin Australia would start daily flights from an as-yet-unknown Australian city in March 2020.
Where will the aircraft come from?
Virgin would most likely roster one of its six Airbus A330s to Tokyo, which would mean either closing one of its Hong Kong routes or pulling another A330 from the Sydney-Perth or Melbourne-Perth transcontinental schedule.
"Virgin Australia’s intended application for slots at Haneda Airport is extremely important to ensure there is competition in this market to bring choice and value for consumers, with lower airfares and more travel options to Japan," the airline said in a statement issued to media.
"The airline is focussed on investing in the right routes that are commercially profitable and introducing Japan to its network will benefit the business, guests and the broader tourism industry."
Virgin, ANA partnership?
With Qantas' application citing connectivity via fellow Oneworld member Japan Airlines for domestic flights across Japan, Virgin Australia will feel compelled to document its own partnership proposition – one which would likely be with JAL nemesis and Star Alliance member ANA.
ANA already flies daily from Sydney to Haneda and Perth to Narita, and has been granted a third Australian route, also from Haneda, as part of the Japanese Government's decision to open 50 extra daily slot pairings at Haneda in the lead-up to the 2020 Olympics.
This could shake out as a codeshare with ANA flying between Melbourne and Haneda while Virgin launches Brisbane-Haneda, for example.
Virgin's play is certain to be controversial, as it comes weeks after CEO Paul Scurrah announced a sweeping review to 'rightsize' the airline – including a focus on routes – having recently posted a $315 million loss for the 2018-2019 financial year, topping seven straight years of losses adding up to $1.9 billion.
Qantas' own pitch threw pre-emptive shade at Virgin, without naming its rival, by saying "Qantas is also the only no risk option to meet the requirement for this allocation of capacity".
The International Air Services Commission is expected to make its decision and grant both of the Tokyo/Haneda openings by 31 October 2019.