A Virgin Australia-branded Boeing 777-300ER widebody jet was ferried from Wellcamp to Brisbane on Thursday, marking the first time the jet has taken to the skies in over 19 months.
The jet, VH-VPE, took off from Wellcamp Airport just before 12:20pm on Thursday, landing just 27 minutes later at Brisbane International Airport.
According to Planespotters.net, it’s the first time the jet has fired up its engines since it entered long-term storage at Wellcamp in October 2020.
It was previously stored at Sydney Airport, after being withdrawn from use on 30 March 2020. It remained parked in Sydney until it was ferried to Wellcamp on 23 October.
Virgin grounded its fleet of five Boeing 777s in March 2020 at the dawn of the global pandemic, just weeks before the group entered voluntary administration.
As part of the administration and restructuring process, Virgin axed operations of its 777 fleet, along with its ATR, Airbus A330s and Tiger A320s, in order to slim down to a mid-tier domestic carrier. Since then, Virgin has resumed short-haul international jaunts on its Boeing 737s.
Virgin did not comment on the movement, however, pointed to earlier communications that it had disclaimed its Boeing 777s, despite a number of the jets sitting at Wellcamp for months after the administration process had finished.
A number of sources point to VH-VPE now being the property of US-based UMB Bank, after its sale in November 2020, suggesting the aircraft could shortly be moved again to a new, more permanent home.
However, the movement comes as Virgin gears up to make a major announcement that it claims will ring in a “new era of flying” later this month, putting on a spectacle at its Brisbane Hangar.
While the two moves are likely entirely unrelated, it certainly has the rumour mills turning.
It comes just weeks after Virgin announced the order of another four Boeing 737 MAX jets, on top of its existing order for 25, in another show of post-administration strength.
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.
It also comes after Australian Aviation reported that Virgin carried more passengers than rivals Qantas, Jetstar and Rex in January, claiming 34 per cent of the passenger market, up from 33 per cent in October 2021.
The figure surpasses Virgin’s long-held target since exiting administration in November 2020 to achieve and hold onto 33 per cent of domestic market share. Virgin boasted just 22 per cent share in November 2020.
Qantas and Jetstar each claimed 31 per cent of the month’s domestic passenger market share, sending the Qantas Group’s collective share to just 62 per cent, well below the group’s target of 70 per cent.