Air Canada vice president for global sales Duncan Bureau says the airline is working to deepen its partnership with Virgin Australia as it expands in this part of the world through the start of new nonstop Melbourne-Vancouver services with the Boeing 787-9.
Virgin Australia began codesharing with the Canadian flag carrier in May 2017, when its VA airline code was added to Air Canada-operated flights from Los Angeles to Calgary, Montreal and Toronto.
At the same time, Air Canada added its AC airline code on Virgin domestic flights from Brisbane and Sydney to 10 destinations across Australia and New Zealand, including Adelaide, Canberra, Cairns, the Gold Coast, Melbourne, Perth, Auckland, Christchurch and Wellington.
The two carriers also outlined plans for Virgin Australia to codeshare on Air Canada’s nonstop flights from its three Australian ports (Brisbane, Melbourne and Sydney) to Vancouver, as well as reciprocal frequent flyer benefits, including allowing members of Virgin’s Velocity and Air Canada’s Aeroplan to earn points and receive status recognition when flying on codeshare services.
Bureau said the two carriers had a “great relationship” that continued to grow.
Further, representatives from both airlines were continuing to work on areas of further cooperation.
“Certainly both carriers are working towards getting the right agreement in place,” Bureau told reporters during a recent visit to Australia. “I certainly can’t speak for them but from our perspective we think there is opportunity there.”
“Over time we will continue to get deeper and deeper in the relationship. We are very happy with the results and very happy with the relationship that we have now.”
Bureau said he was hopeful that Virgin Australia would begin codesharing on Air Canada’s nonstop Australia-Vancouver flights soon.
“It’s a matter of timing and priorities. And both carriers have a lot of priorities that they are working on,” he said.
“It is something that we want to get done and hopefully that is something we will see in the next few months.”
In early December, Air Canada kicked off its seasonal Melbourne-Vancouver nonstop services with Boeing 787-9 equipment. The Star Alliance member is the only North American carrier flying to three destinations in Australia, with Brisbane served daily – also with the 787-9 – and Sydney daily with Boeing 777-200LR equipment.
All its Australian flights feature lie-flat business class seats with direct aisle access for every passenger, as well as a premium economy and economy cabin.
(United and Hawaiian Airlines serve three destinations in Oceania, United flies to Melbourne and Sydney in Australia and Auckland in New Zealand, while Hawaiian serves Auckland, Brisbane and Sydney.)
Air Canada’s Melbourne-Vancouver flights will operate four times a week for a two-month period between December 1 2017 and February 4 2018.
Following a near four-month hiatus, Air Canada will then commence year-round flights on the route three times a week from June 1, with a morning departure from Melbourne and an overnight service out of Vancouver.
Bureau said all its Australian services were timed to connect with flights to the rest of Canada and, just as importantly, United States over Air Canada’s Vancouver hub.
Further, passengers transiting Vancouver enroute to the United States were able to go through US customs and immigration procedures before boarding their flight, meaning they would arrive in, say New York, as a domestic passenger. Checkin luggage was also tagged to their final destination.
“You walk down the arrivals hallway and there’s signs for US connections and you literally just turn left and walk into the US customs hall,” Bureau said.
“Our entire strategy is dependent on the success of sixth freedom traffic, which is transiting Canada into the US, and so we have seen huge growth in terms of the amount of traffic going into the US.
“The New York market, as you all know, is a very attractive destination and hubbing over Vancouver is a significantly better experience than it is hubbing over LA or San Francisco or frankly any other US gateway. It’s a very different experience, incredibly stress free.”
Meanwhile, passengers from Australia can also continue to get a widebody premium product on the Vancouver-New York leg.
“It is the same plane service on the Brisbane flight so you are actually getting back onto the lie-flat bed,” Bureau explained.
“That historically has been a bit of a criticism for us in terms of the product and so we’ve addressed that and taken this aircraft and put it into New York and it’s done incredibly well.”
Bureau noted Air Canada was the largest international carrier flying into the US with more than 60 markets.
While the Melbourne-Vancouver flight will return in June as a three times weekly service, Bureau hoped the route would quickly move to daily.
“We will get it to a daily service,” Bureau said.
“How quickly I am not sure. But certainly it is up to the market here to help us determine that.”
And while the bulk of passengers on its Australian network were originating in North America, the directional flow was becoming more balanced as Air Canada grew its presence in this part of the world.
“We wouldn’t be putting more airplanes here if we weren’t happy with the performance,” Bureau said. “We’ve seen yield improvement from Australia.”
“We’ve also seen a larger mix, point of sale/point of origin Australia on the route and again, our investment here is in the belief that there’s enough demand from Australia to support the route.
“As you can appreciate, there is an incredible investment that we have made in the Australian market and when you look at the capital expenditure, or the capital assets that we have deployed to Australia, it is well over one billion dollars.”
Air Canada has taken delivery of 30 of the 37 787s it has on firm order. The airline also has options for 15 more of the type.
Bureau said it has been the 787 that has allowed Air Canada to open up 50 new markets over the past five years, with Melbourne-Vancouver at 7,119nm the longest route in the network.
“What that airplane has allowed us to do is operate into markets that historically we could not have done from an economic perspective,” he said.
“[If] our only option was the 777 into this market, we wouldn’t be operating here. The capability of the 787, both from a range and economic perspective allows to operate here profitably.”