When will Virgin Australia resume long-haul international flights?

The airline has long maintained it would resume long-range flying when international demand returned.

By David Flynn, May 13 2022
When will Virgin Australia resume long-haul international flights?

Virgin Australia is expected to continue as a primarily domestic airline, apart from short overseas trips to the likes of New Zealand, Fiji and Bali, for at least several years – and no, those Boeing 777s are not coming back, either.

Bain Capital ditched Virgin’s long-range Boeing 777 and Airbus A330 jets under a sweeping ‘rescue, rightsize and reboot’ plan which saw the airline focus almost exclusively – and, arguably, so far very successfully – on the domestic market.

And while Virgin still owns some Boeing 777s, which have remained parked at Toowoomba's Wellcamp Airport, 130km west of Virgin's Brisbane base, a spokesman for the airline reiterated to Executive Traveller it has no short-term plans to resume long-range flying, and certainly not with the fuel-hungry 777s.

This includes the Boeing 777 which this week flew from Wellcamp to Brisbane, fuelling speculation that it would be the centrepiece of a forthcoming event at Virgin’s Brisbane hanger “to celebrate a new era of flying”, with the airline teasing it as “one of the most exciting and unique aviation events of 2022.”

Executive Traveller understands this Boeing 777, which is owned by US-based UMF Bank, remains up for sale and its 25-minute flight is a matter of requirement in keeping the jet saleable.

Partner airlines fill the gap

In an interim authorisation for shared pricing on Virgin Australia and United Airlines under their new partnership launching on May 24, the Australian Competition & Consumer Commission also noted that Virgin Australia  “does not currently operate any long-haul international services and is unlikely to do so in the short to medium term, as it does not have access to the widebody aircraft necessary to begin operating such services.”

United Airlines of course fills that gap, with flights from Sydney and Melbourne to Los Angeles and San Francisco, along with Sydney to Houston, either running right now or soon to resume.

The Star Alliance member replaces Delta Air Lines as Virgin’s US partner – Delta has since announced its own alliance with Regional Express – while Virgin’s newest ally Qatar Airways also waiting in the wings.

“The ACCC’s preliminary view is that this proposed codeshare arrangement with United Airlines is likely to result in a public benefit as it will help Virgin Australia re-establish its international network,” ACCC Commissioner Stephen Ridgeway remarked in granting his interim approval.

“Currently, it appears that Virgin Australia is unlikely to be able to operate its own long-haul international services in the short term.”

“These arrangements are not likely to lessen competition as there is no operational overlap on any routes between Virgin Australia and United Airlines and there are other airlines operating on the routes.”

A matter of when, not if

Virgin has always insisted that it would resume long-range international flying when demand on its key routes returned, saying "long-haul international operations are an important part of the Virgin Australia business" but would not resume until the global travel market recovered – a process which remains in its early stages.

“We are really looking forward to restarting (long-haul international flying) with a principal focus on Japan and the USA,” CEO Jayne Hrdlicka remarked in April 2021.

In September 2021 s Virgin Australia spokesman told Executive Traveller “we remain in discussions with aircraft manufacturers on a fleet strategy to support the reintroduction of widebody services when long-haul international travel demand returns.”

However, the pact with United Airlines fuelled speculation that Virgin could stay out of the long-range game; Virgin’s alliance with ANA could replicate the partnership model for flights to Japan. 

Former Virgin Australia CEO Paul Scurrah, who helped steer the airline out of administration in 2020 before Hrdlicka took the stick, had previously launched a “widebody fleet review” with the aim of replacing the A330 and B777 with a single aircraft type – either the Airbus A350 or the Boeing 787 – citing “significant cost savings available from next-generation aircraft.”

“We did a lot of work pre-administration on replacing both those aircraft types with a more efficient, newer version of a wide-body,” Scurrah elaborated at a media briefing in August 2020.

“We are having discussions with aircraft manufacturers but there's also going to be leasing opportunities for us, and it might be that we go straight to the end solution or we might have a temporary lease solution” he allowed at the time.

QF

11 Jul 2014

Total posts 779

Common sense would be to only operate routes that make money 12 months of the year and use partnerships to fill the hole. Me being me I would even sell Qantas tickets on some routes if Qantas recognised the status of the passenger. 

Image a Velocity member flying Sydney to Auckland on QF metal may sound stupid but I'm sure a business case could be built for the ACCC, I've seen other examples where this has been allowed outside the airline industry.

Virgin Australia - Velocity Rewards

24 Jan 2018

Total posts 569

We've read of plans for Bain to exit V2 via a re-listing on the ASX.  Nup, no-one in Australia would buy that stock (neither retail nor wholesale investors).  Before Virgin resumes long haul I suspect it'll be the subject of a trade sale to an international carrier who'll benefit most from such a resumption (if done) under its ownership.  

24 Aug 2011

Total posts 1087

Given the huge amount of money Bain stands to make from a successful domestic franchise in the next few years, it may not be in a huge hurry to sell down.

QF

11 Jul 2014

Total posts 779

@Reeves35 Private Equity firms are known for a quick buck and the rumour has it JH could pick up $20M - $50M on the sale of VA there not interested in long term profits trust me.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

04 Nov 2017

Total posts 316

The only realistic partners equity-wise (at this stage) is either QR or UA.  

I don't think EY or SQ are going to bother equity wise again after losing billions on their previous attempts, and SIA's remaining investment in India is barely making money but still more than their previous loss making investments in Australia and elsewhere.

I don't think Virgin will ever fly further than its 737s can manage. Much smarter for them to be a great domestic airline and add on a few short-range overseas routes like NZ and Bali. Leave the USA, Japan, Singapore and others to partner  airlines.

bsb
bsb

21 Jul 2011

Total posts 82

That WOULD be the smart thing to do, but history has a habit of repeating itself. 

Thai Airways International - Royal Orchid Plus

15 Jan 2013

Total posts 412

ANA with VA throwing in the domestic sectors to link up to Sydney makes the most sense for Japan or option B as bad as the connections are is flying to Singapore on Singapore Airlines and then onto Japan(Nagoya,Osaka and Tokyo)

21 Apr 2016

Total posts 24

So when is the NH partnership coming...? It was announced Jan 2020 with a Jul 2020 start date - obviously pushed back by the pandemic but strange to have no further updates considering Japanese tourism to Australia has been going for the past 6 months, and Australia tourism to Japan looks to come back in the next month or two.

British Airways - Executive Club

10 Apr 2015

Total posts 15

I know from what you’ve said in the article it’s incredibly unlikely, but I’d like nothing more than Virgin to return to the LAX route - the frankly sub-par service, food, wine and ‘you are privileged we have let you fly with us’ mentality Qantas has adopted out the back of the pandemic, while charging ever increasing fares. Bring back the 777, better seat (still), bar, happy staff - I’d switch in an instant. And I suspect many others would. Yes the Qantas first lounge is exceptional, but you spent your time on the plane, not the lounge.


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