Virgin Australia has renegotiated its order with Boeing for the 737 MAX and will now accept only half the number of aircraft.
Previously, the business intended to purchase 25 MAX 10s and an additional 23 smaller MAX 8s, which have now been cut.
The news comes shortly after the US Federal Aviation Administration certified the aircraft to fly again following a 20-month ban. The MAX was grounded worldwide due to two fatal crashes that killed a total of 346 people.
Virgin is now scheduled to take delivery of the first aircraft in mid-2023 and not July 2021 as originally intended.
The business said in a statement the order shows a “deep commitment to the future” from new owners Bain Capital.
“We have already moved to simplify our mainline fleet and committed to the Boeing 737 aircraft as the backbone of our future domestic and short-haul international operations,” said chief executive Jayne Hrdlicka.
“The restructured agreement and changes to the delivery schedule of the Boeing 737 MAX 10 gives us the flexibility to continually review our future fleet requirements, particularly as we wait for international travel demand to return.
“The MAX 10 will allow us to build on the operational flexibility we have been able to achieve with our existing fleet throughout administration to ensure we remain competitive on the other side of COVID-19.
“These enhancements will give us the ability to manage demand and deploy the B737 MAX 10 on high-density domestic and short-haul international routes or where there are constraints due to slot availability limitations.
“We will also continue to invest in capability that delivers a safe and efficient aircraft operation, and one that ensures safety remains our top priority. With support from Boeing, any new aircraft will undergo careful evaluation to ensure we are comfortable with it prior to entering service.”
Aside from the MAX’s own technical problems, Wednesday’s announcement draws a line under a number of changes to Virgin’s order.
Australian Aviation previously reported how the business at one stage ordered 38 737 MAX 8s, which were due to enter its fleet in November 2019, alongside 10 larger 737 MAX 10s due from January 2022 onwards.
This order was revised to 25 MAX 10s and 23 MAX 8s before today’s latest amendment to just 25 MAX 10s.
The developments were spurred on after the MAX finally received its certification to fly again by the FAA. The decision is expected to be replicated by similar bodies around the world.
FAA chief Steve Dickson said the aircraft is now “the most scrutinised airplane in aviation history”.
“The design changes that are being put in place completely eliminate the possibility of an accident occurring that is similar to the two accidents,” Dickson said.
“I feel 100% confident. We have run this thing top to bottom … We’ve done everything humanly possible to make sure.”
Shortly after, European budget airline Ryanair ordered an additional 75 MAX jets, in a deal worth over $9 billion, bringing its total MAX order as high as 210 aircraft. The order is the largest Boeing has seen on the aircraft since 2018.
Ryanair group chief executive Michael O’Leary called the 737 MAX order “the deal of the new century” while Boeing chief executive David Calhoun added that he “always had faith that the order book would begin to fill with the return of the industry”.
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