Virgin Australia is set to hire 150 new cabin crew and return 220 from its axed long-haul operation as it announces a major expansion of its services today to halt Qantas’ increased market share.
The airline also confirmed the return of 10 leased 737s, a plan to return to 80 per cent pre-COVID capacity by June and new routes between Melbourne-Hamilton Island and Melbourne-Darwin.
“Virgin Australia Group is committed to maintaining a market share consistent with its pre-COVID position,” the business said in a statement.
On Thursday morning, Virgin said more than 220 cabin crew would return from the airline’s discontinued long-haul international, ATR regional and Tigerair Australia operations, alongside a “major recruitment drive” to fill more than 150 new cabin crew roles.
This comes alongside an agreement with lessors for an additional 10 Boeing 737-800 aircraft, which had previously been operated by the airline. The first three will join this month while the remainder are set to enter service by October.
The company has also entered into wet-lease arrangements with Alliance to operate Fokker 100 services on behalf of Virgin between Brisbane-Alice Springs and Brisbane-Mt Isa from 19 April 2021.
This was given the go-ahead earlier this week when the ACCC granted final permission for Virgin and Alliance to collaborate on 41 regional routes until 31 March 2023.
Using an A320, Virgin Australia Regional Airlines (VARA) will operate services on routes between Perth-Darwin, Perth-Broome and Perth-Adelaide from May.
These arrangements will support the redeployment of the larger 737s to other markets.
The combined developments will allow Virgin to return to more than 80 per cent of the airline’s pre-pandemic domestic capacity by mid-June, and launch new Melbourne-Hamilton Island, Melbourne-Darwin routes and extended Brisbane-Launceston, Melbourne-Ballina Byron seasonal services.
In total, between now and the June school holidays, Virgin will add more than 220 return flights per week to its schedule.
Chief executive Jayne Hrdlicka said, “Today, we are operating around 850 weekly return flights, and as we approach the June school holidays, we will add another 220 return flights per week to our schedule.
“By mid-June, we expect to be operating more than 80 per cent of our pre-COVID domestic capacity.
“We’re hopeful that domestic border closures will soon be a thing of the past and are continuing to see positive signs of consumer recovery. As an example of this, we’ve had multiple record-breaking sales days of half-priced fares, with more than 75 per cent of the tickets being booked for travel from May onwards.
“All of this will provide much-needed certainty for hundreds of our team members, who through no fault of their own, were required to give up their jobs because of the extraordinary impacts of the pandemic. We are thrilled to be able to welcome many of them back to Virgin Australia.”
The agreement to return more 737s and rehire staff will come as a surprise given new owners Bain said last year it intended to downsize the business’ 737 fleet from 85 to 56 as well as removing all other aircraft models.
The move appears to be prompted in part by a spike in ticket sales caused by the government deal to supplement 800,000 half-price fares.
When Virgin first exited administration in August last year, it announced it was to cut 3,000 jobs, reduce its 737 fleet from 85 to 56 and also axe its ATR, Boeing 777, Airbus A330 and Tigerair Airbus A320s altogether.
It’s not yet known whether these additional 737s will be in addition to the 56, or within this number, given many aircraft are grounded and the airline’s capacity is significantly lower than pre-pandemic.
The news comes weeks after Qantas chief executive Alan Joyce said the government’s new package of financial support would accelerate its return to 80 per cent domestic capacity.
The flag carrier has long maintained that it expects to increase its market share from 60 to 70 per cent post-COVID.
Virgin’s fleet expansion also follows criticism from the TWU’s national secretary, Michael Kaine, who told the Australian Aviation Podcast last month that the “jury is still out” on business’ plan to become a hybrid carrier.