Virgin Australia has announced it will lease an additional nine Boeing 737-800 NG aircraft, with deliveries to begin in October.
The airline said the new aircraft will be welcomed ahead of an anticipated uptick in domestic travel demand, as the rate of vaccination increases and interstate borders inevitably open, and the holiday and summer travel season approaches.
While deliveries will begin in October, Virgin hopes to see all nine jets in the air by mid-February 2022.
“Airlines around the world have had to bend and stretch over the past 18 months as our fleets, teams and wider operations have responded to unprecedented border restrictions and demand volatility,” Virgin Australia chief executive Jayne Hrdlicka said.
“But we at Virgin Australia are crystal clear that the underlying consumer desire for travel is strong.
“While our recent efforts have been directed toward adapting to and managing through a very difficult few months for communities and businesses throughout the country, we’ve also maintained a consistent focus on our strategy and medium term growth opportunities.
“These extra aircraft are an important part of our planning and ensure we’re ready to ramp up flying and meet the pent-up demand for domestic travel as soon as the opportunity presents itself.”
Including the new additions, Virgin Australia’s mainline fleet now totals 77 aircraft, including 75 Boeing 737-800s and two slightly smaller Boeing 737-700s. Meanwhile, rival Qantas boasts a fleet of 126 aircraft, with an additional 39 on order.
“With this extra fleet capacity, we will be well positioned to reach our target share of 33 per cent of the domestic market, and service the destinations that our customers want with the frequency they expect,” Hrdlicka said.
Virgin is also anticipating the delivery of its first of 25 Boeing 737 MAX 10 aircraft, due to arrive in mid-2023.
This order was originally for 38 of the smaller 737 MAX 8s, due to enter the Virgin fleet in November 2019, and 10 larger MAX 10s, due in 2022.
However, the order was delayed due to the 20-month global grounding of the 737 MAX in early 2019, following two fatal crashes on the aircraft.
The MAX was recertified following numerous safety upgrades and test flights by the US Federal Aviation Administration in November 2020, and Australia’s Civil Aviation Safety Authority followed suit in February 2021.
Additionally, in December 2020, the newly-reborn Virgin revised down its MAX order to just 25 MAX 10s, following the airline’s months-long restructuring and the COVID pandemic-induced downturn.
The news comes just two weeks after Virgin confirmed mass stand downs across its network, as domestic borders remain largely shut.
In an email to staff, Hrdlicka said the number of people required to work will “vary from week to week” but all affected will be eligible for $750-a-week COVID payments.
It comes after weeks of speculation and follows similar moves by both Qantas and Rex.
“I’m writing to let you know that consultation with unions regarding working arrangements for frontline staff across each of our bases … have concluded,” Hrdlicka said.
“Regrettably, the arrangements do involve reduced hours and/or temporary stand-downs for frontline staff at all bases. But they also include a minimum fortnightly payment for anyone affected, linked to available government support packages.
“We will do our best to manage the flexibility you have provided by considering your preferences where operationally possible. Our priority is getting our team, and our fleet, back in the air whenever and wherever we can.”