Virgin Australia restarted flights to New Zealand on Wednesday for the first time in nearly 1,000 days.
The first was a 737, VH-YIL, which departed Brisbane at 10:07am as flight VA115 and landed at Queenstown at 3:45pm local time.
The airline has now begun a daily service between both Sydney and Brisbane to Queenstown and will restart a four-time weekly service from Melbourne on Thursday.
The Victoria flights will increase to daily during the peak Christmas holiday period (12 December 2022 to 29 January 2023).
Chief executive Jayne Hrdlicka said Wednesday marked a “significant day” for the airline.
“Australians and New Zealanders have a close bond and we are proud to be creating a new gateway between the countries for friends and family to visit each other, businesses to flourish and holiday-makers to seek adventure with more choice and great value airfares,” she said.
“Value, choice and great service are at the heart of Virgin Australia, and we look forward to bringing these values to Queenstown with our expanded network.
Virgin Australia suspended all international flying, including to New Zealand, on 30 March 2020. It has already restarted services to Bali and Fiji and will soon fly to Vanuatu and Samoa. Passengers can reach 500 destinations in total, too, via its international partner airlines.
Alistair Hartley, the company’ chief strategy officer, said, “We are seeing strong demand across our international network over the Christmas school holiday period.
“Our flights to Queenstown will increase to 21 per week between 12 December and 29 January, with a daily service operating from Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne, to help meet the demand.”
It comes after the business last month declared it had returned to real profitability for the first time since its damaging ‘capacity wars’ battle with Qantas a decade ago.
Virgin said it had achieved the remarkable turnaround by removing $300 million worth of costs and re-contracting more than 450 corporate accounts.
It comes after the airline reported an underlying loss of $386.7 million in the last financial year as it grappled with lockdowns.
While it technically delivered a $3.7 billion after-tax profit for the year ending June 2021, that largely came off the back of the $4.4 billion in creditors’ claims that were extinguished by its administrators.
Virgin Australia entered administration in 2020 after years of trying to shift itself from a low-cost carrier to a full-service offering capable of taking on Qantas.
The deal included cutting axing 3,000 roles, scraping the Tigerair brand and initially downsizing its 737 fleet from 85 to 56, as well as removing all other aircraft models. It recorded a staggering $3.1 billion loss during its last financial year before the takeover.
However, with pandemic restrictions now largely removed, domestic aviation has rebounded to near pre-pandemic passenger numbers, peaking at 97 per cent in June.
The recovery gave Virgin the confidence to announce in August it would acquire another four MAX 8s to take its total domestic fleet to 92 Boeing 737 aircraft.
It marked a significant increase from its original intention of having just 58 aircraft when it emerged from administration.