Virgin Australia will add two or three new international destinations to its route network within three years, the airline’s chief executive John Borghetti has revealed.
“You wlll see us fly to more international destinations over the next three years,” Borghetti told the Tourism and Transport Forum’s Leadership summit in Canberra on Wednesday.
“Two [destinations], maybe three, certainly two, but obviously we are not going to talk about that at this stage,” Borghetti said in response to a question about when Virgin would expand its international network.
Virgin today operates a limited long-haul network flying five Boeing 777-300ERs between Sydney and Abu Dhabi and from Sydney and Brisbane to Los Angeles. The airline also has short-haul international flying with 737-800s to Bali, Phuket, Pacific Island destinations and on the trans-Tasman.
It has long been speculated that Virgin would look to expand its long-haul international network into Asia, but that would require adding additional widebody aircraft to its fleet, or redeploying the 777s or the six Airbus A330-200s currently used on the important transcontinental domestic market.
The Virgin Australia boss has previously said the airline is in “no rush” to acquire new widebody aircraft types such as the Boeing 787 and the Airbus A350, or the airline could take some of the 199 widebody aircraft ordered by alliance partner and shareholder Etihad Airways late last year, in a deal which gave the Abu Dhabi-based carrier the “capacity to redirect orders” to airlines in which it holds equity stakes.
More likely though, to meet an in-service date within three years, Virgin Australia could add incremental A330 units to its fleet. Last month Virgin revealed a new business class fully flat sleeper seat which will be refitted to its A330 fleet as well as its long-haul 777s.
Borghetti said Virgin would take a measured approach to any international expansion.
“Without giving too much away, there are three basic building blocks to running an international airline,” he said.
“The first is you have got to have a strong presence in your home market and to do that you have to have a good solid base on your domestic network … which we now have.
“The second is to try and establish your brand, in a minor way at least, in as many destinations as you can in new markets, and we’ve been doing that now for the last three or four years through the four alliance partners that we have.
“The third element is, OK, we’ve got a base, we’ve started to get recognition, people know who we are, now let’s start going into new destinations.
“However, caution, many international airlines lose many many millions of dollars moving too fast, and we’re not going to fall for that trick.”
He also reiterated that Tigerair Australia will soon fly short-haul international routes as well.
“Importantly it [the 100 per cent acquisition of Tigerair Australia] will also open up new opportunities in short-haul international markets,” Borghetti told the TTF forum.
“Now that we have secured the licence rights for Tigerair to fly short-haul international you will see that happen over the next couple of years.”