Virgin Australia to launch Perth-Abu Dhabi, resume Melbourne-LA flights in long-haul network shakeup

Virgin Australia Airbus A330-200 VH-XFC about to depart Perth Airport for Bali. (Keith Anderson)
Virgin will operate A330-200s on long-haul routes from Perth to Abu Dhabi. (Keith Anderson)

Virgin Australia plans to launch new Perth-Abu Dhabi services and to resume nonstop flights between Melbourne and Los Angeles in a significant shakeup of its long-haul network next year.

Perth-Abu Dhabi will be served three times weekly with Airbus A330-200s from June 9, while Melbourne-Los Angeles will be served five times a week with Boeing 777-300ERs from April 4, Virgin said on Tuesday.

To free up the extra flying time on its five 777-300ERs required to return to the Melbourne-Los Angeles route, Virgin is dropping its three times a week Sydney-Abu Dhabi flights from February 4 2017 and reducing Brisbane-Los Angeles from daily to six times weekly.

There will also be a schedule change on one Brisbane-Los Angeles-Brisbane rotation a week, which will be an evening departure from Brisbane and a morning departure from Los Angeles. Currently, all Virgin trans-Pacific services take off from Australia in the morning and leave Los Angeles late at night.

Virgin dropped flights between Melbourne and Los Angeles in October 2014 in order to boost its Brisbane-LA service to daily. Its withdrawal coincided with the arrival of United on the route.

“The United States is a key market for Virgin Australia and this enables us to service Los Angeles from the three biggest gateways in Australia – Brisbane, Melbourne and Sydney,” Virgin chief executive John Borghetti said in a statement.

“In partnership with Delta Air Lines, we will soon offer 25 services each week from Australia to Los Angeles and remain the only trans-Pacific alliance to offer business class guests lie flat beds with direct aisle access on all services.”

Virgin alliance partner and shareholder Etihad Airways will in turn replace Virgin’s three Sydney-Abu Dhabi flights with three additional frequencies using 777-300ERs, maintaining a twice-daily offering from Australia’s largest city.

The two carriers will then boost their combined network between Australia and Abu Dhabi from June 9, when Virgin commences the three times weekly flights between Perth and Abu Dhabi with A330-200s. Currently, Etihad serves Perth daily from its Abu Dhabi hub with Boeing 787-9s.

“Our A330 aircraft will be deployed on a long-haul international route for the first time on flights between Perth and Abu Dhabi, which increases the number of services offered on the route from seven to 10 per week through our alliance with Etihad Airways,” Borghetti said.

The changes mean there will be no more premium economy options for travellers on the combined Virgin/Etihad network to Abu Dhabi and beyond, given Etihad does not offer the cabin and Virgin’s A330-200s are configured in a two-class layout comprising 20 business and 255 economy class seats.

And although schedules were yet to be firmed up, Virgin said it expected free up A330s to serve Abu Dhabi by reducing its trans-continental services from Perth to Australia’s east coast capitals with the Airbus widebody by about 3.5 return services a week.

Etihad chief executive Peter Baumgartner said the changes to the two carriers’ Australia-Abu Dhabi network offered passengers more choice, noting Virgin’s new flights opened up new two-way connections such as Athens, Beirut, Geneva, Istanbul, Dar es Salaam, Entebbe, Khartoum and Nairobi.

“Australia is a critical part of our network, and we will continue to add capacity in order to meet the growing two-way demand for business and leisure travel,” Baumgartner said in a statement.

In terms of flight schedules, Virgin said its Perth-Abu Dhabi flights will operate as VA11 departing at 2305 from Perth and arriving in Abu Dhabi at 0635 the next day. The reciprocal VA12 takes off at 0820, arriving in Perth at 2325.

Etihad’s daily flight departs Perth at 1700 as EY487, arriving in Abu Dhabi at 0010 the next day. Meanwhile, EY486 departs Abu Dhabi at 2220, arriving in Perth at 1310 the next day.

The changes come ahead of Virgin launching flights to Beijing and Hong Kong from a yet-to-be-announced Australian city from June 1 2017.

In its application to Australia’s International Air Services Commission (IASC), Virgin said the two routes would be served daily with A330-200s configured with 275 seats.

At the end of May, Borghetti said the joint network as part of the proposed alliance between Virgin and new shareholder HNA Group was yet to be locked in.

“This strategic alliance will have us jointly operating to China from Australia,” Borghetti said on May 31.

“We certainly will be flying there. Whether it is all Virgin Australia aircraft or not, let’s see how that works out. It will be a joint operation and that’s what’s important. Both of us will be promoting traffic between the two countries.”

Etihad-Virgin-Australia
Etihad and Virgin Australia are re-jigging their Australia-Abu Dhabi services.

Comments

  1. deano says

    All sounds quite logical
    Looks like A330s will be all on international duties mid next year
    If all are based in Perth would that mean
    Perth – China – Perth
    Or
    Perth – (Sydney, Melbourne or Brisbane) China – (Sydney, Melbourne or Brisbane) Perth
    Seems they will have 5 frames available after Abu-Dhabi is accommodated
    I guess that Perth to the east coast will now mostly be in 737s, that may ruffle some feathers

  2. Sam says

    No point having the best domestic terminal in Australia if you have to fly in and out of Perth in clapped out, cramped 737s, because all of your a330s are tied up doing international flights.

  3. Craigy says

    This is an interesting move.

    I never saw the benefit of the 3 days a week flights to Abu Dhabi. As Geoff Dixon once said about Qantas and Paris, we needed daily flights to make it work. Qantas could only get 4 flights a week (I think that is right) but the French wouldn’t allow an increase until the remodelled A330 was in competition with the B787 for a Qantas order. The only thing I can see is they made up a short fall in Etihads capacity to Australia. Now that they are operating A388 to Sydney, the Virgin B77W are surplus.

    We know that the slow down in the resources sector has meant that there is excess capacity in intra WA and interstate. This has released A332s’ for other routes. The two routes to Asia will only require 2 aircraft. The Perth – Abu Dhabi depending on which days the flights will operate will require 1 possible 2 aircraft for some days of the week. This means that on three days of the week, there will only be 2 as a minimum A330s for domestic or 3 as a max. So you can see the B738 replacing some A330s or some flights being removed from the schedule.

    I wonder if Virgin will set up a major maintenance base in LA for the B77W like Qantas has done for the A388 and B744.

    On a side issue, I have been looking at the A330 schedules at Qantas for March 2017 and it appears that a number of A333 services have been replaced with A332s. I wonder of Qantas will be announcing some new routes for the A333 when they announce the B789s first route. I also think they will announce some new B738 international routes as indicated at the Yearly results where B738 are replaced by B712 domestically. Any bets on Adelaide – Singapore with a B738? Sydney – Papeete? Sydney-Nadi?

  4. Martin says

    Virgin Australia’s domestic and international terminals are abutting each other at Perth Airport and so you don’t need to pay for any bus or taxi going to the other. An excellent choice for seamless travel departing to and arriving from Abu Dhabi.

  5. Master Planes says

    In the future Virgin Australia could operate 3 Daily flight from LA to Australia using there 5 existing leased Boeing 777-300ER’s.

    3 Aircraft could operates to Brisbane and Melbourne:
    *** MELBOURNE ***
    LAX 2110 MEL 0600+2 (13H 50Min)
    MEL 1130 LAX 0900 (15H 20Min)
    > MEL Layover: 5H 30Min
    Rotation Time: 13H 50Min+ 15H 20Min+ 5H 30Min = 34H 40MIN
    *** Brisbane ***
    LAX 1115 BNE 1815+2 (13H 05Min)
    BNE 2130 LAX 1735 (14H 00Min)
    > BNE Layover: 3H 15Min
    Rotation Time: 13H 05Min+ 14H 00Min+ 3H 15Min = 30H 20MIN
    >>> MEL Rotation (34H 40Min) + BNE Rotation (30H 20Min) = Total operation time for BNE & MEL is 65 Hours (2 Days 17 Hours)

    2 Aircraft could operate to Sydney:
    *** Sydney***
    LAX 2235 SYD 0620+2 (13H 40Min)
    SYD 0950 LAX 0630 (14H 45Min)
    > SYD Layover: 3H 30Min
    Rotation Time: 13H 40Min+ 14H 45Min+ 3H 30Min = 31H 55MIN
    >>>Total operation time for SYD is 32 Hours (1 Days 8 Hours)

    Note: LA is where Virgin Australia does a lot of their line maintenance for the B777-300ER’s (as there is a long layover are needed is to the maintenance (eg more than 3 hours) and the labour cost are cheaper in LA than Australia. So it is unlikely that an additional flight to Australia will the existing 5 777’s.

    Hypotheses: Virgin could maybe add a flight, no longer than 4 hours each way with a 3.5 Hour layover, e.g. SYD/BNE/MEL to AKL or LAX to MEX/YVR witch could increases there 777’s fleet utilisation further.

  6. Chuck says

    Once again all the focus is on state capitals as the salvation. When will VA and QF start to look at the untapped regional city markets for international services. At the moment it seems to be that only overseas carriers are looking to these markets, and cabotage restrictions deny any domestic connections.

    Cities like Canberra, Newcastle, Sunshine Coast and Townsville are all crying out for a slice of the international pie. Clever routing could see some of these centres linked domestically and onwards to an international destination.

    Individually these cities might not generate the total traffic required to underwrite the connection, but collectively they would, and the travelling public would leap at the service even if it was one stop.

  7. Paul Brisbane says

    I agree Sam, I fly in and out of Perth/Brisbane every 3 weeks and I have only done 1 flight on a cramped Virgin 737. The majority of my work companions fly on the A330 services with Qantas for the same reason, Qantas fly a few 737 flights as well, they to are talked about and to be avoided at all costs.

  8. Dave says

    Well they currently only operate one return A330 service from Per-Bne each day, so possibly could see that returned to a Full B737 service? However if anything to have an advantage over QF they would be better off removing a MEL service instead as most daya all flights to MEL are A330