Virgin Australia eyes Airbus A350, Boeing 787 to replace A330s, B777s

By David Flynn, August 9 2016
Virgin Australia eyes Airbus A350, Boeing 787 to replace A330s, B777s

They've got to be the two most-asked question on Virgin Australia's future fleet plans: will the airline choose the Airbus A350 or the Boeing 787, and when will it make that call?

The "when" is "no time soon", according to Virgin Australia CEO John Borghetti.

"There's no rush on that (decision)" Borghetti said last week at a media briefing following the release of the airline's 2016 financial results.

"We've got leases on the Boeing 777s and Airbus A330s going into 2020-plus, so we've got probably two or three years tears before we need to make that decision."

However, when that time does come the airline could settle on a single aircraft to replace both the A330s – which fly Australia's east-west routes and have also been tagged for new Asian destinations – and the five Boeing 777-300ERs which Virgin uses for international flights to Los Angeles and Abu Dhabi.

"The ultimate is to try and replace them both with one type, even if they're a different variant," Borghetti predicted. "But we'll look at that as we start to get down the track, it's a bit early now."

Those comments are in line with Virgin's current moves to slim down the number of different types of aircraft in its fleet – ditching its regional Fokker F50s, Embraeur E190s and even the Airbus A320s of low-cost arm Tigerair by mid-2019.

Also read: Is HNA the answer to Virgin Australia's fleet puzzle?

Qantas has similar intentions for its forthcoming Boeing 787-9s, the first of which will begin flying in October 2017.

The airline has dibs on as many as 45 more Dreamliners which will eventually replace both the domestic and international Airbus A330s as well as the ageing Boeing 747s.

Also read: Qantas CEO promises "very luxurious" Boeing 787 configuration

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David Flynn is the Editor-in-Chief of Executive Traveller and a bit of a travel tragic with a weakness for good coffee, shopping and lychee martinis.

24 Aug 2011

Total posts 1192

Given the A350-900 is probably going to be too much plane for domestic routes, you would think that a combination of 787-8s and 787-9s would be the lead candidate for VA.  

It is always possible that Airbus offer a killer deal on the A330NEO  alongside the A350-900.  JB has acknowledged already how impressed he is with the capabilities of the A350.

Virgin Australia - Velocity Rewards

19 Mar 2014

Total posts 569

The A350-900 is definitey too much plane but the A350-800 is a good fit. The range capabilities will not be 100% utilised regardless of the choice of A350 or 787, but if they get the loads right, there'll continue to be good flexibility through future routes. 

21 Sep 2011

Total posts 69

Because it won't be his decision to make in a couple of years.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

31 Aug 2015

Total posts 123

My guess is that it won't even take that long.

Virgin Australia - Velocity Rewards

06 Nov 2012

Total posts 19

The only two logical choices are the A350 and the 787 in their 8/9 variants, but given the learning curve of Airbus aircraft compared to Boeing aircraft one would imagine the top choice would be the 787. Either way, Borghetti cannot answer the question because he won't be CEO in 2020.

31 Mar 2014

Total posts 376

It wouldn't surprise me if the decision came down to, which plane they can get cheaply through one of their major shareholders

Virgin Australia - Velocity Rewards

19 Mar 2014

Total posts 569

Very good point.... 

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

31 Aug 2015

Total posts 123

With the gargantuous number of fares and charges that they just announced, whatever they get, they'll have trouble filling it.

Air New Zealand - Airpoints

05 Nov 2014

Total posts 59

Given the latest "enhancements", they ain't going to need a terribly large aircraft.

They would be hard-pressed to drive away their highest-yielding customers any faster than they currently are.


13 Jun 2015

Total posts 140

VA has to make a decision of what aircraft the airline wants to purchase. A330s and B77W aircraft were between 4-7 years old and I think it's about time for VA to consider replacements. B777x would be a great replacement for the B777-300ERs and the A330Neo would replace A332. A B777x would have the potential to fly SYD/BNE - LAX non stop. A330neo would be utilized for domestic routes only unless VA wants to open Asian Routes. 

The 777-300ER is already "too much airplane" for Virgin, so a 777X would be even a worse fit.

They will take something smaller than the 777-300ER, which means the only real models in contention are the A350-900, and the 787 series. Out of the 787 series, only the -9 has enough range to do all of VA's routes, and VA will be looking to keep the fleet as simple as possible, so the -9 is the natural choice (and its smaller capacity relative to the A350-900 means higher frequencies are possible, too).

I'd wager they'd take 787-9s. The range is sufficient for all VA's routes, and the plane is substantially smaller than the 777-300ER (which is "too much airplane" for Virgin, capacity-wise). It can also do Asian routes competitively.

I'd suspect VA may wish to end widebody services domestically, and instead perhaps use narrowbody jets with premium configurations on the Transcon routes; their 737 MAX order will allow them to do just this.

Replace the 5 777s and 6 A330s with, say, 10 787-9s? That would make a lot of sense for VA.

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