Tigerair Australia to grow internationally as a “narrowbody operation”

AIRBUS A320s TIGERAIR MEL APR16 RF 5K5A6147
Tigerair Australia’s biggest base is Melbourne Tullamarine. (Rob Finlayson)

Virgin Australia is sticking with the Tigerair Australia brand and plans to expand the low-cost carrier’s footprint internationally with destinations in narrowbody range over the next three years.

Tigerair Australia began international operations in March, with flights to Bali from Adelaide, Melbourne and Perth using Boeing 737-800s, which remain on Virgin Australia International’s air operator’s certificate (AOC) and flown by Virgin pilots and Tigerair cabin crew.

The LCC has applied to the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) for two changes to its AOC. The first is for the addition of the 737 onto its AOC as it transitions from Airbus A320s to 737-800s, with pilot training for the 737 already underway. The second is to secure approval to operate international flights.

Virgin Australia chief executive John Borghetti told reporters after Wednesday’s annual general meeting in Brisbane Tigerair would grow its international network over the next three years. However, he appeared to rule out the use of widebody aircraft at Tigerair, describing its international flying as a “narrowbody operation”.

“There is no question Tiger will expand internationally, absolutely no question at all,” Borghetti said.

“What we’ve got now in Tiger is a budget airline who still gives you that cheap ticket and all the things I said but it includes friendlier service and that is the big differentiator that Tiger has got at that end of the market.”

While potential new destinations were not given, Borgheti’s comments suggest Tigerair may be in line to take over more Bali routes from Virgin, given the leisure nature of the market and the fact it can be served with 737-800s from the Australian mainland.

In terms of Virgin Australia’s international network, the airline announced a significant shakeup of its overseas flying in September, with a return to the Melbourne-Los Angeles route, the launch of Perth-Abu Dhabi services and a withdrawal from Sydney-Abu Dhabi planned to occur in 2017.

“What you will see Virgin Australia do is what it is doing now and that is expanding and really our focus on the Virgin Australia international brand is all about continuing nonstop sector flying to America and Asia,” Borghetti said.

Borghetti offered no updates on previously announced plans to fly to Beijing and Hong Kong from Australia from June 1 2017 in partnership with shareholder HNA, other than to say that the airline would “absolutely” be flying to somewhere in Asia in calendar 2017.

Currently, Tigerair has three ex-Virgin 737-800s for flights to Bali. A fourth 737 is due to join the fleet shortly to assist with crew training and for additional domestic flights over the busy summer holiday season.

Meanwhile, the LCC’s 14 A320s will be progressively replaced with 737s over the next three years as Virgin and Tigerair move to a common fleet type.

Under chief executive Rob Sharp, Tigerair has moved into a new home at Melbourne Tullamarine Terminal 4, improved its on-time performance and posted a maiden full year profit in 2016/17, a year earlier than forecast when Virgin took full ownership of the then-struggling airline in 2014.

Borghetti said the Tigerair Australia brand would remain in place following Singapore Airlines’ decision to integrate the Tigerair Singapore operation with Scoot under a single brand and operating licence.

“We have no intention of changing that brand,” Borghetti said of Tigerair Australia.

“I think Rob and his people have done a great job in building the brand, the acceptance of the brand in Australia and it is performing very well for us.

“We are not planning on changing that at all.”

Comments

  1. inherentchoice says

    Aside from Bali, New Zealand and Fiji, is there really any other leisure destinations that the 737-800 can reach from Australia?

  2. Vector Victor says

    The 737-800 will reach lots of Asian destinations ex Australia in addition to where it already flys. Eg. Perth – Phuket, Singapore, Malaysia, Darwin or Cairns to many destinations including Vietnam, Philippines etc.

  3. Norman Dunstan says

    They could do a milk run across the Pacific sydney nandi honolulu los angeles its just a thought probably not viable

  4. inherentchoice says

    @Vector Victor – so not really from Sydney Melbourne or Brisbane then. I thought Jetstar did try to make Darwin a hub but it didn’t work out even though they had incentives from the NT Government.

  5. franz chong says

    I hope Sydney-Bali doesn’t fall into the hands of Tigerair.It currently still is operated by Virgin Australia and for those of us who are frequent flyers with VA we are the ones who need that particular flight.not keen on paying the extra and I am from Adelaide of flying to Melbourne on Virgin and having to use Garuda if that can be helped.

  6. Baxter says

    The 737 will reach several island destinations from the east coast, there is more of the virgin network in the Pacific other then New Zealand and Fiji.
    Perth also has great demand for cheaper Asian destinations that is not just Bali, Kuala Lumpur or Singapore. Places such as Phuket, Lombok, Yogyakarta, Kota Kinabalu just to name a few. What about adding more regional international services such as Broome, Port Hedland, Karratha, Kalgoorlie to Bali, most of West Australia hates backtracking VIA Perth.

  7. Marc says

    @inherentchoice.
    737 potential to New Caledonia, Samoa, Tonga, Cook Islands, Vanuatu. From Darwin or Cairns or Perth access some or much of SE Asia inc Singapore, KL.

  8. salesh says

    years ago, then Air Pacific used it’s 737-700, with 180m ETOPS to do NAN – HNL-YVR
    even with 120m ETOPS they will be able to reach most of the South Pacific Islands from East Coast

  9. teddy says

    More questions here about how well suited the current (and near-future) generation of narrow-body aircraft are to regional international services from Australia.

    There is little on the horizon that can effectively replace the B752 – the perfect aircraft for many of the routes being discussed here.

    It’s interesting that 20-30 years ago, Australia’s airlines (and airports / population) probably were not placed to able to exploit to range-payload combination of this class of aircraft, and freight capacity steered QF to the B762. Forward to 2016 and beyond and Australia has multiple regional airports that would suit a narrow-body intercontinental range passenger jet like the B752.

    Now the B757 is out of production and B737/A320 LR/ER variants seem not to really be able to fill the void.

    It’s hard to see the NG/NEO variants with the range-payload required for comparatively long-thin routes.

    There is a not insignificant market probably waiting for another aircraft to come along that can fill the B752 void.

  10. Rocket says

    OzJet used to do MEL-NLK with a 737-229 Advanced so I’d be surprised if the -800 can’t fly a lot further.

  11. rpaps5 says

    @Teddy,
    I assume you haven’t heard of the A321NeoLR which has MORE range than the B752 with a VERY similar passenger load.
    This aircraft is running rings around the B737-900/-9Max because of it’s significant runway problems, a 20 passenger greater max load over the -900/-9Max and restricted engine fan size with it’s stumpy legs – the Max engines (fan Dia. 10+cm smaller, so lower bypass ratio) are almost getting gravel rash even after Boeing changed the shape of the engine pylons to lift the engine cowling as high as possible.

  12. Tim says

    Assuming a range of 3000nm, which is fairly typical of the -800, that’s almost anywhere ex-SYD in the arc from Jakarta to southern Philippines to American Samoa. Ex-DRW that’s almost anywhere in SE Asia and within range of southern China, South Korea and southern Japan. Not quite Beijing and Tokyo but certainly capable of reaching Shanghai and Osaka.

  13. john says

    there are quite a few thin trans-tasman routes which aren’t served now, but could be served by Tiger, with as few as 2 flights a week, plus BNE/DUD/BNE would be better suited operated by tiger than Virgin.

  14. teddy says

    @rpaps5

    Thanks for the heads up on the A321LR NEO. Looks like the stumpy legs of the B737 family are coming to roost.

    Unlikely that any Australian carrier would take this aircraft on apart from JQ given its extant A320/A321 fleet. This is a shame as there are probably several routes from AUS (including regional ports) into Asia / North Asia that could benefit from this type of range-payload combination.

    Seems surprising that the Boeing brains trust haven’t been able to crack the B752 replacement adequately.

  15. Grant says

    Don’t forget Boeing is still studying the 737-10 MAX concept with around 200 pax capacity and a range of 4200 nm. They claim it’s an A321 killer. But no doubt Airbus would simply dust off the A322 plans (with ~230 pax and potentially a range of 5000 nm) and run rings around it.