Virgin is set to operate four additional 737 MAXs in addition to its previous order of 25.
The new aircraft, the smaller 8 variant, will arrive as soon as February and take the airline’s 737 fleet to 88 – significantly higher than its post-administration prediction of just 58.
Virgin Australia CEO Jayne Hrdlicka said, “We are on track to return to 100 per cent of pre-COVID domestic capacity by June this year and expect to well exceed those levels by year’s end, and our resources sector and contract flying in WA is in high demand.
“This investment in our fleet reflects the increased demand we are experiencing in all parts of Virgin Australia.”
The business on Friday also said it would retire its older Fokker 100 aircraft from early next year and replace them with 737-700s, which it estimates will result in 30 per cent less emissions per seat, per trip.
The airline group currently operates 10 Fokker 100s across its operations in Western Australia.
“We are committed to building this business and positioning it for success into the long term,” said Hrdlicka. “Continuing to modernise our fleet and develop the capability of our teams across Australia to support newer aircraft is an essential part of that success.
“Existing F100 flight and cabin crew, VARA engineering and support staff and corporate and operations functions will be progressively trained to operate and maintain a 737 NG fleet, both as F100 aircraft are retired and as the airline continues to grow its WA resources sector and contract flying business.”
Despite international travel still being far behind pre-pandemic levels, domestic travel has bounced back quicker than expected.
Earlier this month, for example, Gold Coast Airport became Australia’s first major airport to fully recover from COVID, with passenger and flight numbers beating pre-pandemic records.
The facility welcomed and bid farewell to almost 25,000 people on Easter Monday, a new monthly record, and close to the all-time high of 25,455 passengers on 4 January 2020. Qantas has also said its domestic capacity would reach 110 per cent of pre-pandemic levels at Easter.
Australian Aviation first reported in 2020 that Virgin had renegotiated its order with Boeing for the 737 MAX.
Previously, the business intended to purchase 25 MAX 10s and an additional 23 smaller MAX 8s, which were cut completely. The new order announced on Friday, however, means the airline will now receive four of the MAX 8 variant.
The business said at the time that the order showed 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 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.”