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Virgin Australia takes off for Tokyo

written by Jake Nelson | June 28, 2023

Victor Pody shot this Virgin Australia 737-700, VH-VBY.

Virgin Australia has officially launched its new route from Cairns to Tokyo (Haneda).

Originally intended to launch with the airline’s new 737 MAX aircraft, the first flight took off from Cairns as VA77 on board the 737-700 VH-VBZ (similar aircraft pictured) at 2:51pm on Wednesday. The airline will fly daily between Cairns and Tokyo year-round.

The service was enabled through the Queensland government’s Attracting Aviation Investment Fund and will provide more than 2,000 seats per week between Cairns and Haneda with same-day connections to major Australian cities.

“Today marks the start of our highly anticipated services to Haneda, Tokyo, which means Australian travellers will benefit from greater value and choice when flying to Japan as we expand our international footprint,” said Virgin’s Velocity Frequent Flyer CEO and Japan services representative, Nick Rohrlach.

“We know that Cairns has consistently ranked as one of the most popular tourist destinations among Japanese visitors to Australia and we are thrilled to unlock a new convenient gateway for Japanese travellers to explore all Far North Queensland has to offer, while injecting a welcome boost of tourism into the region.”


Tokyo (Haneda) is Virgin’s sixth overseas destination, following Bali, Queenstown, Nadi, Port Vila (Vanuatu) and Apia (Samoa). According to Cairns Airport chief operating officer Garry Porter, the route’s launch during Tropical North Queensland’s mild winter is well-timed.

“It has been more than a decade since we had a full-service carrier servicing the route from Tokyo to Cairns, and that coincided with peak Japanese visitation, which is a great indication of the potential of these new flights,” he said.

“With Virgin Australia’s extensive domestic network in Cairns we also expect to see travellers from southern states opt to travel via Cairns to visit Japan, especially during the Japanese winter ski season, which is always a drawcard for Aussie winter sport enthusiasts.”

While Virgin will initially operate 737-700 aircraft on the route, these will gradually be replaced by the newer 737 MAX 8, the first of which – VH-8IA, nicknamed ‘Monkey Mia’ – will touch down in Brisbane this week. Virgin has a further seven MAX 8 planes, as well as 25 MAX 10s, on order.

The airline opted to use its 737-700s to ensure Cairns–Haneda launched on time, as the MAX 8 order has been delayed by issues at Boeing, including with supplier Spirit Aerosystems.

“As a result of the delay, we will operate our Cairns–Haneda (Tokyo) service using our existing Boeing 737-700 aircraft for a short period,” a Virgin spokesperson said last month.

“The good news is that Virgin Australia customers will not be impacted and our schedule of Japan services will continue as planned.”

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