Virgin Australia will revisit plans for a next-generation domestic business class to debut on the Boeing 737 MAX 10, which will take wing in mid-2021.
“We will have very capable aircraft coming into the fleet with the MAX 10 and we will be considering what the cabins will look like, and have the balance of great seat, great service and great economics,” Virgin Australia CEO Paul Scurrah told Executive Traveller following the company’s annual general meeting earlier this year.
That leaves a solid 18 months of transcontinental business travellers making do with the airline’s current Boeing 737 recliners on east-west routes, except for the handful of flights featuring Virgin’s better-appointed Airbus A330s.
But with two of the airline’s six A330s committed to Hong Kong and soon Tokyo, Virgin is easily out-gunned by Qantas’ 18-strong domestic A330 fleet and its impressive Business Suites.
If that scenario worries Scurrah, it doesn’t show through his easy charm.
“I’m not concerned about that at all,” Scurrah says. “We have in previous years reduced A330 flying on the transcontinental route and we have maintained very good performance from corporates supporting us.”
“Given that feedback, I don’t see the need to rush a new business class into transcontinental.”
It’s a marked and very Scurrah-like measured approach to where Virgin Australia’s finances and focus needs to be right now, which is all about “turning a great airline into a great business.”
'Perth Product 2.0'
For John Borghetti, Scurrah’s predecessor for almost nine years between May 2010 and March 2019, the arrival of a new Boeing 737 transcontinental business class would have represented yet another milestone in reshaping the airline from the low-cost Virgin Blue to the full-service Virgin Australia capable of challenging Qantas for a goodly chunk of the business travel market.
Internally dubbed “the Perth product” in a nod to the western anchor of the coast-to-coast flights from Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane, the seat was already moving to the centre of Borghetti’s radar screen when he confirmed his plans to Executive Traveller in July 2017, promising "you’ll hear about it later this year.”
Borghetti boasted that the new seat would represent a “quantum leap in domestic business class.”
“I’d say everything we've done product-wise has not been half-baked, and we would not put a product on transcon that was not up to scratch.”
Details were scarce – Borghetti kept his cards very close to his chest, and the late-2017 reveal was pushed back to 2018 before the project was put into a holding pattern – but some speculated this would be a flat-bed seat along the same lines as US carrier JetBlue’s Mint premium cabin, based on the Thompson Vantage design which has also found favour with airlines as diverse as Singapore Airlines and Aer Lingus.
The Boeing 737 MAX was posited as a launch platform for the new transcontinental business class upon its delivery to Virgin in November 2019
However, barely four weeks after Scurrah was appointed CEO he pushed back the deliveries of the still-grounded 737 MAX until July 2021, when Virgin now expects to pick up the keys to the first of 25 Boeing 737 MAX 10 jets.