A Virgin Australia-branded Boeing 777-300ER aircraft left its COVID storage home of Wellcamp on Wednesday, likely marking its first flight post-pandemic.
Australian Aviation photographer Lenn Bayliss was on hand to capture the moment the widebody, VH-VPD, departed Toowoomba at 1:33pm and landed in Brisbane 25 minutes later.
It originally flew to Wellcamp in October 2020 – again captured by Bayliss.
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.
Australian Aviation previously reported how another Virgin-branded 777-300ER, VH-VPE, made the same trip in May 2022.
It’s thought the airline has disclaimed all of its Boeing 777s, despite a number of the jets sitting at Wellcamp for months after the administration process finished.
The news comes two months after Virgin said it would return to flying long-haul in June with the launch of a new daily service between Cairns and Tokyo.
The airline will use its upcoming fleet of 737 MAX 8s for the route that will bring an extra 30,000 additional inbound visitors to the Queensland city.
Virgin currently flies shorter haul international destinations such as Bali and Fiji, and partners with larger carriers such as United, Singapore and Qatar to fly further afield.
The service appears to be in keeping with Virgin owner Bain’s new strategy to avoid competing on mass with Qantas, which led to years of huge losses before the company’s collapse.
Chief executive Jayne Hrdlicka said, “Virgin Australia is a proud Queensland company, and we’re delighted to add over 2,000 seats between these iconic destinations every week which means more value and choice for Australians wanting to travel to Japan.”
The business is thought to have performed far better than initial expectations after it emerged from administration in 2020 with new owners. It’s now profitable for the first time since the damaging ‘capacity wars’ with Qantas a decade ago.
Its total workforce has also grown to more than 7,000 after attracting 2,000 additional staff in the past two years.
Virgin announced 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.
Previously, the business intended to purchase 25 MAX 10s and an additional 23 smaller MAX 8s, which were cut completely.
The new order announced last year means the airline will now receive eight of the smaller 8 variants, after making a previous order for four in April.