Virgin Atlantic's Australia plans: new business seat, Boeing 787s

By John Walton, May 22 2012

The good news: Virgin Atlantic's new Dream Suite business class is coming to Sydney.

The not-so-good news: it's likely to be at least two years away, and quite possibly more, before you can stretch out in the new lie-flat bed after sipping a cocktail at the bar.

That timetable is tied to the delivery of Virgin Atlantic's Boeing 787s, the first of which isn't due until late 2014, with 15 more to follow over successive years.

There are no plans to upgrade the Airbus A340-600 planes currently used on the Sydney-Hong Kong-London route with the Upper Class Dream Suites in the meantime.

Virgin Atlantic's CEO Steve Ridgway promises Australian Business Traveller that the cutting-edge Dreamliners will replace the Airbus A340s, but "whether they'll do [the Sydney] leg straight away is too early to call. They'll certainly go to the Far East [first]."

Yes, Sydney will see the Dream Suite - but not before 2014 at the very earliest, and probably later

And while Ridgway is up for a rapid rollout of Virgin's 787 fleet, the X-factor is how quickly Boeing can get them out the door and into Virgin's hands.

"What we don't know yet is the rate that Boeing will deliver them," Ridgway reasons. "We've got sixteen coming. Obviously we'd like them quite quickly, but until we get a firm production rate it's difficult to know when."

An improved Dream Suite on board the 787

But Ridgway says the Upper Class Dream Suite will be larger and more spacious in Virgin's stretched Boeing 787-9 Dreamliners.

"The priority right now is to get the new Dream Suite done for the 787," Ridgway emphasises.

"Given the cabin's a bit bigger, we can make some of the dimensions a bit bigger. It's surprising -- just that little bit of extra width in the cabin makes all the difference when you can divide it up among the passengers," Ridgway explains.

The Upper Class Dream Suite beds will be a bit wider on the Boeing 787

Don't miss our in-depth, on-the-plane review of the new Upper Class Dream Suite!

Australia still high on the Virgin Atlantic priority list

Ridgway and Virgin Atlantic remain committed to giving Australian business travellers an alternative to the London-via-Singapore Kangaroo Route: "Our service via Hong Kong is very successful. It's one of the shortest elapsed times [from Sydney to London] and there are good connections."

But Ridgway hoses down speculation of plans to expand within Australia, saying that while the Sydney market "is so significantly bigger than all the others that it was the right decision, [Australia's] really the territory of our sister company... any growth there will come via Virgin Australia."

"It's very difficult for us to grow our services to Australia without having what are called 'fifth freedom rights', to stop and pick up traffic. Realistically, now, I just don't think we'd get them, because the Gulf carriers have put so much investment into Australia that it's pretty over-supplied."

Virgin Australia and Air New Zealand remain key partners

Virgin Atlantic's CEO speaks proudly of younger sibling Virgin Australia: "I think moving into the business market, they've got the brand sorted out now. It's a tough old marketplace. It's got lots of Virgin's spirit and fun."

Existing partners Air New Zealand -- who offer partner connections to NZ and on to Australia from Japan, the US and Canada -- are also key to Virgin Atlantic's antipodean strategy.

Air New Zealand's newest business class seat is an upgrade of the previous Virgin Atlantic flat bed.

"We're certainly working with them on a lot of cabin interior stuff," Ridgway muses. "They, as you know, partnered with us on the Upper Class Suite the first time around. There's good cooperation there. We have our seat company in the UK, and of course they've got quite good capabilities down there now too."

Air New Zealand upgraded its Business Premier offering last year, so might we see a Kiwi version of the new Upper Class Dream Suite on an Air New Zealand 787 sometime soon?

"They've certainly looked at it, but I don't know whether they've made a decision or not. Obviously we've got to look at the next derivative of it, which is for the 787."

And the Airbus A380 Virgin Atlantic has on order?

Ridgway wouldn't be drawn on plans for the six Airbus A380s which sit on his order book.

"They're not until 2017, so we've got a long time to plan what happens to them" he hedges. "The focus is on the rest of these [A330s] and the 787s as well. Obviously we're interested in what Airbus is doing with the A350 as well. That looks like it could be a good aircraft too, and there are various derivatives of that."

"The rest of this year, we have five or six Airbus A330 deliveries, which the seat companies are busy making seats for. Then as soon as [the two aircraft on lease to China Airlines return] come back early next year they'll be retrofitted into this three-class configuration and then put into mainline on Heathrow."

"They'll do India, Middle East, some Africa, and then some US flying. Probably not quite to the West Coast, but we could do Vancouver, for example."

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John Walton
John Walton

John Walton

Aviation journalist and travel columnist John took his first long-haul flight when he was eight weeks old and hasn't looked back since. Well, except when facing rearwards in business class.



09 Sep 2012

Total posts 139

"Australia still high on the Virgin Atlantic priority list"? Probably Sydney only as usual; these airlines seem to think of Sydney as another London, but it's far from that.



Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

19 Aug 2011

Total posts 148

Given Virgin is squeezing its new, smaller, Upper Class suite into a 1-2-1 configuration on its A330s (compared to 1-1-1 for the older one) and Air NZ only fits its new version as 1-1-1 on the 787, Virgin will be making the new Upper Class suite smaller still for the 787.

As Virgin considers it doesn't have enough capacity to HKG as it is, I would have thought it would be a while before Virgin replaces the A340.

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