Virgin Australia “reasonably capable” to start Haneda flights by Mar 2020

written by australianaviation.com.au | October 10, 2019
Virgin Australia is planning to operate Airbus A330-200s between Brisbane and Tokyo Haneda. (Dave Parer)
Virgin Australia is planning to operate Airbus A330-200s between Brisbane and Tokyo Haneda. (Dave Parer)

Australia’s Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Cities and Regional Development has dismissed concerns Virgin Australia may not be in a position to commence nonstop flights to Tokyo Haneda by March 2020.

Virgin Australia has applied to Australia’s International Air Services Commission (IASC) for one of the two available slots for flights between Australia and Tokyo Haneda.

Should the request be approved, Virgin Australia planned to commence nonstop flights between Brisbane and Tokyo Haneda from the end of March 2020 with Airbus A330-200s featuring 20 business class seats with direct aisle access for every passenger and 255 economy class seats at eight abreast.

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The new route would also be flown in partnership with Japan’s All Nippon Airways (ANA).

Meanwhile, Qantas has applied for both available slots to add a second daily Sydney-Tokyo Haneda service and switch its current Melbourne-Tokyo Narita flight to Haneda.

In its submissions to the IASC, which manages Australia’s international traffic rights, Qantas said it was the “only no risk option” to meet the requirement for the two Tokyo Haneda slots to be utilised from March 29 2020.

Further, the Flying Kangaroo questioned whether Virgin Australia would be ready to begin flights to Japan by the end of March 2020.

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Virgin Australia has brushed off those concerns, describing them as “mere conjecture”. The airline said it was well placed to begin flights between Brisbane and Tokyo Haneda by March 29 2020.

And a letter to the IASC written by Stephen Borthwick from the Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Cities and Regional Development’s aviation industry policy unit has expressed confidence in Virgin Australia International Airlines (VAIA) being able to utilise the available capacity.

“Based on current information, the department considers VAIA is reasonably capable of obtaining the relevant licences, permits and other approvals required to operate on and service the Australia-Tokyo (Haneda) route and using the capacity that VAIA has sought in its application,” Borthwick said in the letter dated October 9 and posted on the IASC website.

The letter stated the IASC had written to the department on September 24 regarding Virgin Australia’s application.

Separately, on October 8, the IASC wrote to the department seeking further information on what would happen with unutilised Tokyo Haneda slots.

Borthwick said in response to that letter it was the department’s view that “in the event an Australian airline was allocated a slot to/from Haneda Airport and was subsequently unable to establish or sustain operations using that allocation, the unutilised slot would then be able to be allocated to another Australian airline”.

“However, this would ultimately be a decision for the Japanese authorities,” Borthwick said.

In September, the Japanese Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism (MLIT) allocated a total of four new slot pairs for Australia-Tokyo Haneda routes, comprising two new slot pairs for Japanese carriers – one for All Nippon Airways (ANA) and one for Japan Airlines – and two new slot pairs for Australian carriers.

The allocation was among a package of 50 slot pairs for international services at Tokyo Haneda, with 25 for Japanese airlines and 25 for international carriers.

Also, the slots would be for daytime services – notionally between 0600 and 2255 – as air traffic managers opened up more airspace in the Tokyo area to support the additional flights.

Virgin Australia’s application for one of the two available slots has been supported by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC), Brisbane Airport and Tourism Australia.

Similarly, the Victorian government has backed Qantas’s application to use one the two available slots to switch its Melbourne-Tokyo Narita service to Haneda.

Tokyo Haneda Airport, which is located much closer to Tokyo city than Tokyo Narita, had previously been predominantly used by Japanese carriers as a domestic airport.

However, there have been efforts to expand the number of international services at Haneda amid a Japanese government push to attract more tourists to the country.

Japan Airlines and All Nippon Airways (ANA) aircraft at Tokyo Haneda Airport. (Rob Finlayson)
Japan Airlines and All Nippon Airways (ANA) aircraft at Tokyo Haneda Airport. (Rob Finlayson)

Currently, there were nine nonstop routes between Australia and Japan operated by four carriers – Sydney-Tokyo Haneda (ANA and Qantas), Sydney-Tokyo Narita (Japan Airlines), Sydney-Osaka Kansai (Qantas), Melbourne-Tokyo Narita (Japan Airlines and Qantas), Brisbane-Tokyo Narita (Qantas), Gold Coast-Tokyo Narita (Jetstar), Cairns-Osaka Kansai (Jetstar), Cairns-Tokyo Narita (Jetstar) and the recently commenced Perth-Tokyo Narita service from ANA.

And there is new capacity coming later in 2019, with Qantas scheduled to operate a seasonal Sydney-Sapporo nonstop flight with Airbus A330 equipment between December 2019 and March 2020.

All Nippon Airways Boeing 787-9 featuring Star Wars livery touches down in Sydney in December 2015. (Rob Finlayson)
All Nippon Airways Boeing 787-9 featuring Star Wars livery touches down in Sydney in December 2015. (Rob Finlayson)

The IASC said on September 3 it was aiming to allocate the two Tokyo Haneda slots by October 31 2019, in order to enable Australian carriers to begin flights from March 29 2020, the start of the 2020 northern summer scheduling period. It described the deadline as a “tight timeframe”.

ANA and Japan Airlines were yet to announce how they planned to use the additional Tokyo Haneda slot for Australian routes.

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19 Comments

  • Justin

    says:

    no surprise if Qantas wins and reduces any possibility of more competition

  • Phil

    says:

    Etihad and Hainan have brand new a350, 787 and a330 factory fresh but put in storage as we speak. Virgin should at least pick up a couple of them for a reasonable price to use on the Haneda flights. It would be nice to finally have an airline us an a350 for a flight to HND. Pilots won’t need a arm or legs worth of training either since Virgin already has its a330s. I just find if very weird that Virgin threw money down the drain for new 737 MAX aircraft when their 737NG aircraft are still fresh as a daisy yet have such an urge not to buy any new long haul aircraft.

  • Tony

    says:

    Crikey, ‘reasonably capable’! There’s a vote on confidence if ever I’ve read one!

  • Red Cee

    says:

    While I believe that Virgin will be granted one slot, and Qantas the other, you have to feel for Qantas, as all of a sudden, Virgin have been granted a prime slot on a route to a country that Virgin have never flown to before. The talk of competition on the route is also rubbish, as Virgin will fly from BNE, and Qantas most likely from SYD and MEL.

    • Phil

      says:

      I totally agree Red Cee. Qantas wanted this extra slot for years and virgin just pounced on it just to spite Qantas. I hope it backfires on em!

      • Mark

        says:

        And you don’t think Qantas would have done the same ? As I prefer Qantas, I would still take QF BNE-NRT over Virgin to HND, but it does seem VA & ANA have been in discussions for some time based on what I have read so good luck too them. We need two strong airlines in Australia to keep each other honest.

        The government are always banging on about competition and here it is.

  • Craig

    says:

    It is competition Red Cee, with connections via BNE for SYD and MEL VA customers. If it’s cheaper, some people wouldn’t mind the transfer in BNE.

    • Phil

      says:

      I think from Melbourne ANA would do Haneda flights with their slot.

  • Gary

    says:

    Why do you want it to backfire Phil. It seems that some people in this country feel that we should have just one airline, great for competition. Virgin Australia is an Australian airline employing real Australians and should be allowed to compete

    • Phil

      says:

      Gary I have flown with Virgin before and love them. I just think that chasing Qantas on its international network just wont work. Look how badly their HK flights are going and they been making losses on it even before the unrest. Virgin needs to think outside the box with their international routes and perhaps fly routes that would be popular but aren’t served by Qantas yet. One example that comes to mind is a MEL-ICH flight. Melbourne has no direct ICH flights. Another one could be SYD-SEA. Delta has a hub at SEA and no airline does a direct flight from anywhere in Australia to SEA. Lastly maybe a direct PER-AMS or CDG. Virgin could easily link up with AF/KLM for feeder flights and would be a great way to compete with QF.

    • Red Cee

      says:

      Gary, Virgin domestic is owned 100% by foreign airlines and interests. Therefore, it IS NOT an Australian airline. The only plus that Virgin Australia has, it employs Australians. An Australian Airline would be 100% owned by Australians. Even Qantas, with a 54% Australian shareholder base, is bordering on not being Australian.

      • gv

        says:

        Red, if we didn’t have any foreign ownership in the aviation sector, the opportunities for Australian companies (and the aviation sector in general), to acquire new aircraft would be limited. In Australia we would not have the present current capacity and new types of planes in Australia, if it were not for foreign direct investments and foreign ownership in the aviation sector. Globally aviation is open to foreign investment in many counties who allow 49% foreign ownership. In regards to Qantas, a lot of the foreign shareholders have links to Australia or are in area that Qantas has large presence in such as the UK and US. Virgin Australia is Not 100% foreign owned, its close to 90% but not 100%.

  • David Milliken

    says:

    But they’re not capable of starting Narita flights at any time now or into the future??
    If VA really wanted to serve Tokya they could have started at any point, but they wait until QF are after HND slots and try to undermine Qantas. This us and them mentality is why VA are losing so much money, they continually try to compete head-on with QF and just dont have the depth to so so. VA need to compete by being different, draw people to them for good reasons, not just try to draw people away from Qantas. Just like ANA, JAL, Jetstar and even Cathay have a different brand proposition on the route, so should VA.
    I dont see VA flying into HND to assist their financial position in any way. Would sticking with LAX and HKG be a better strategy, building capacity and strength into solid markets?

    • Aaron H

      says:

      VA want to serve Haneda so they can use the partnership with ANA to feed the flights. From Haneda, ANA fly to 38 Japanese domestic destinations, from Narita they fly to 8. Makes a whole lot more sense to fly to Haneda.

  • James B

    says:

    Under the last CEO (JB) VA have spiralled into a non creative foolish zone. They have squandered many an oportunity, over leveraged, made terrible fleet decisions, continue to make terrible fleet decisions with the MAX selection and also terrible switching Tigerair to Boeing and wasting millions with that, no catering on Tigerair for 6+months with ZERO synergy from Virgin menu, losing huge money and then about to sack 700+ staff!! No wonder Japan would be anxious to give a slot to VA!!

    VA havent even announced a “group strategy” yet and thats been months overdue, I believe its coming in November 2019. So, without any information about how VA will structure itself, fix the bad fleet choices and see how they can staff themselves properly then whats the incentive for Japan to consider them safe? Partnering with ANA is the only way they can establish a case of security by linking them to a Japan airline. Yawn.

    VA need to stop playing “politically correct” HR games about RU OK and get down to fixing the airline, treating the subsiduaries like Tigerair crew with the same conditions as VA and fix the dam group please!

  • Jack

    says:

    It is an Australian airline – and an Australian brand with Australian employees – it just isn’t more than approximately 90% Australian owned. So what. It (will pay) Australian tax. Qantas and Virgin Australia have overseas bases, Qantas more so with Bangkok and London bases for example. Virgin aren’t chasing Qantas. The new CEO has made this clear with staff for a while now. So please understand this to save yourself time. Just see this for what it is – A330 efficiencies were sought with longer routes touted for a while now… particularly with the Max 10 to replace Perth flights from 1.5 years time. Future wide body order has been mentioned by the CEO as an option to be evaluated but depends on timing of leasing arrangements and the wait to profitability. Then you will see a few new routes open up no doubt, mid 2020s. An excellent opportunity presented itself with HND, so VA took action. A quick return on their investment has been evaluated to occur due to the Olympics, improved Japanese economy, ANA codeshare, and Australian tourism increasing into Japan. Don’t read into it for more than what it is. The reasoning is quite simple. Good luck to them, I’m sure they’ll be fine. I look forward to their announcements before December and their future progressions, and company turn around. Their poor current position is similar to Qantas’s back in 2014. Virgin Australia will become well again too.

  • Harold

    says:

    Many ‘Australian’ companies don’t pay corporate tax in Australia, or dodge it well. There’s many definitions to being an Australian company or not. Red Cee, you’re referring to Australian owned. To me, Virgin Australia is an Australian company in general.

  • Pedro

    says:

    Virgin is either capable or not. What a bureaucratic statement.

  • Julian Schweitzer

    says:

    It’s ridiculous you can’t get a direct flight Melbourne to Haneda!!!

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