The pitched battle for Australia’s business travellers is seeing both Qantas and Virgin Australia rolling out the big gun of their domestic fleets, the Airbus A330.
Although many airlines use the A330 for medium-range international trips, it’s well suited to the roughly five hour cross-country journey between Australia’s eastern capitals and Perth.
The A330 carries close to 300 passengers – almost 100 more than the smaller Boeing 737-800s which tend to be the domestic workhorse of Qantas and Virgin.
This also means more business class seats than the 737 – and these seats can be more akin to international-grade seats with extra leg room, a deeper recline and more comfortable design, all of which are major factors in making the trans-continental trek.
Putting more seats on the market is in turn leading to lower fares, with business class fares now hitting their lowest point in almost a decade.
Here’s what the competing airlines have planned for their A330s.
Virgin’s fifth A330, and the third to arrive shiny and new from the Airbus factory at Toulouse, took to the skies late last month.
Its first assignment is to fill in for each of the airline’s first two A330s as they’re sent off for scheduled ‘heavy maintenance’ inspections.
This will afford business class passengers a greater chance of sampling Virgin’s new A330 lie-flat business class seats, as the original A330s – which were bought 'pre-loved' from Emirates to debut on the Sydney-Perth Coast to Coast service – are fitted with more modest recliners.
However, a Virgin Australia spokeswoman confirmed to Australian Business Traveller this morning that despite speculation “we are definitely not refitting the original A330s to install the new business class seats" during their maintenance downtime.
When the second pre-loved A330 arrives back from inspection later this year Virgin will have one extra A330 in its fleet, while a sixth will arrive in the first half of 2013.
The airline has not yet revealed if these A330s will be used to add flights for existing A330 city pairs or open new A330 routes, although Virgin Australia CEO John Borghetti has hinted they could even appear on international flights to selected regional destinations.
“We've got the flexibility of putting it domestically or internationally depending how the market is, depending on where our needs are” Borghetti says.
The Red Roo will add 24 A330s onto its Melbourne-Perth service from October 15, replacing flights currently operated by Boeing 767 aircraft.
This will boost the tally from 44 weekly A330 flights to 68, many of which will be in Qantas’ international configuration with Skybed seats and a generous 60 inches of pitch in business class plus on-demand inflight entertainment from tip to tail.
Earlier this month Qantas wheeled out the biggest of its big guns, the mighty Boeing 747, for daily flights between Sydney and Perth.
The jumbo is assigned to the daily QF581/582 service. QF581 leaves Sydney at 10.10am for arrival into Perth at 1.15pm, then turns around to become the QF582 flight out of Perth at 2.35pm, landing in Sydney at 8.40pm.
Once the backbone of Qantas' international fleet, the 747's appearance on a domestic route represents another parry in the airlines' ongoing stoush.
Qantas is determined to defend its own oft-quoted 'line in the sand' of 65% market share while Virgin Australia edges closer to the other side of that same line as the challenger continues to woo lucrative corporate travellers.
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