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.”