Virgin Australia

By David Flynn, February 27 2013

Virgin Australia expects to choose between the Boeing 787 and the Airbus A350 by year’s end, annointing one of the fuel-efficient aircraft as the big birds in its post-2017 fleet.

But despite the well-documented woes of the Boeing 787, now in its sixth week of a worldwide grounding, Virgin Australia CEO John Borghetti says the Dreamliner remains a contender for Virgin’s future fleet.

“It hasn’t dented my views on how good I think the 787 is” Borghetti told Australian Business Traveller. “I think the 787 is a wonderful airplane, just as much as I believe the A350 will be.”

Airbus A350: a logical upgrade from Virgin's A330 fleet?
Airbus A350: a logical upgrade from Virgin's A330 fleet?

Borghetti says the Boeing-or-Airbus question “will be more an end-of-year decision”, despite indicating in August last year that “sometime within the next 12 months we’d like to make a call.”

“We don’t have to rush into this” Borghetti stresses. “We’re talking about fleet composition beyond 2017. Admittedly we have to make a call soon, but we’ve still got a year or so up our sleeves.”

Boeing 787: despite the Dreamliner drama, it's still a contender
Boeing 787: despite the Dreamliner drama, it's still a contender

Whichever of the two next-gen jetliners gets the nod, it will take over from Virgin Australia’s current mix of Airbus A330s and Boeing 777s, which respectively fly on the transcontinental coast to coast route as well as internationally to Los Angeles and Abu Dhabi, the hub of partner Etihad.

On the domestic front the star of Virgin’s fleet will be the Boeing 737 MAX 8, designed as a next-gen replacement for the Boeing 737-800.

The airline has 23 of the jets on order, with options for four more – a shopping list worth some A$2.7 billion based on Boeing’s sticker price.

The 737 MAX includes new 'winglets' designed to increase fuel efficiency
The 737 MAX includes new 'winglets' designed to increase fuel efficiency

Still under development, the 737 MAX isn’t due to take to the skies until 2017, with Virgin’s first deliveries not slated until 2019.

Boeing predicts the 737 MAX will deliver lower fuel burn and CO2 emissions that are some 13 percent lower compared to "today's most fuel-efficient single-aisle aircraft", as well as quiet engine technology to "signficantly reduce its noise footprint".

For the latest information for business travellers and frequent flyers, follow @AusBT on Twitter.


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.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

18 Oct 2012

Total posts 122

Dibs they go Airbus. Point of difference with QF,s order of 787,s.


04 Nov 2010

Total posts 674

I'm sure there are a LOT of factors going into this and not just the aircraft itself but also things like, how much of a discount will we get off the 'list price' (no airline ever pays full price) and what lease arrangements and compo can we get if the planes are delayed. For example, imagine if Qantas had a clause in its 787 contract to say Boeing would provide 777s on loan and cover cost of livery and fitout if the Dreamliner  was delayed!

While I don't like to play the 'armchair airline CEO' game, I would also think the A350 might be in the lead here. Maybe an easier path for A330 pilots to train up to, gives VA some diversity (between to manufacturers) in its fleet, point of different against QF, and Airbus should be able to learn from Boeing's experiences to help ensure the A350 isn't late. Also, Boeing must have a ton of orders for the 787 so Virgin would have to take a number and wait, getting in early for the A350 could be another advantage there.


Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

17 Jan 2012

Total posts 170

I guess you also need to factor in.....who can supply these aircraft first?  Whilst Boing have ramped up the production of the B787, they still have a massive order book.  I know that Airbus has a large order book as well, but when can they supply these aircraft as well?

Do we have any assurance yet that Boeing's business model, which it tries to copy from Airbus, has been beded down in the organisation?

It seems to me that A350 is the less risky choice given Airbus' track record in delivering composite aircraft, manufactured across multiple locations.

I'm not surprised by what Borghetti has said. He is after all in the market trying to get the best deal! Why shoot yourself in the foot by showing your hand early in the piece?

Virgin Australia - Velocity Rewards

15 Aug 2012

Total posts 171

I actually think Boeing could be looking the goods. The Dreamliner, 737max and  777 will have similar pilot ratings, so transferring pilots between the fleet will be easier as Virgin are committed down the 737 path.

I disagree that they will go down the Airbus path for a point if difference, especially as Virgin has shown with the A330's that you can have the same plane, but its what you do with it that counts as there product is superior.

And regards Airbus having more experience with composite materials? The issue with the Dreamliner is battery related, nothing to do with the airframe. I think you'll find that Boeing is very advanced on that score.

And don't forget, the A350 hasn't flown yet, and production rates will be low for awhile, the Dreamliner is much further ahead. Once the battery issue is fixed they will be off again very quickly, and it appears they fixes ready very soon.

Virgin Australia - Velocity Rewards

15 Aug 2012

Total posts 171

I forgot to mention too that currently Air New Zealand and Virgin share repair facilities and spare parts as well as Engines for there respective 777 fleets.

As Air New Zealand have ordered Dreamliners, this could open opportunities for the airlines to continue this relationship for the Dreamliners as this would provide big cost advantages.

I'm not saying the A350 will be no good, but I think it fits into Virgins business model better.


Virgin Blue - Velocity Rewards

12 May 2011

Total posts 32

Surprised that no one has mentioned the obvious issue: Size. 

I would have thought that the Dreamliner is better sized to take over from both the A330 and the 777 if they want one plane to do both. A 787-9 or (potential) 787-10 could fill the 777 role and the 787-8 fits into the A330 slot. 

The A350 is a great to take over the 777 role but it's too big to slot in for the A330s on the domestic routes, surely? If they want one model to cover the range it's more likely to be the 787. If they are a happy to split the fleet who knows? 

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

05 Jun 2014

Total posts 165

I'm pretty sure that the 787-10 can't fly AU to US non-stop so it would have to be a 787-9

26 Apr 2013

Total posts 1

Unless Airbus offers a really great deal, Virgin will go with Boeing. This would give them fleet synergy, which reduces maintance costs and complications, and also maximises pilot and crew flexibility.

Of course they want to keep their options open - but the point of this PR exercise is more about getting Airbus to drop their prices than to reveal Virgin's open mindedness.

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