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.”