Virgin Australia will add nine additional Boeing 737-800 aircraft to its mainline fleet beginning in October of this year, investing $1 billion in fleet expansion in anticipation of an increase in domestic travel as vaccination rates rise and interstate borders open.
The aircraft are scheduled to fly during the peak summer season to accommodate expected holiday travel, with the goal of having all nine in the air by mid-February 2022.
Despite the significant challenges currently posed by COVID-19 and associated border closures, Virgin Australia CEO Jayne Hrdlicka stated that the additional aircraft reflected Virgin Australia’s long-term commitment to its customers, team members, and Australia’s aviation sector.
“Airlines around the world have had to bend and stretch over the past 18 months as our fleets, teams and wider operations have responded to unprecedented border restrictions and demand volatility. But we at Virgin Australia are crystal clear that the underlying consumer desire for travel is strong,” Ms Hrdlicka said.
“While our recent efforts have been directed toward adapting to and managing through a very difficult few months for communities and businesses throughout the country, we’ve also maintained a consistent focus on our strategy and medium-term growth opportunities.
“These extra aircraft are an important part of our planning and ensure we’re ready to ramp up flying and meet the pent-up demand for domestic travel as soon as the opportunity presents itself.”
Ms Hrdlicka said the additional aircraft will bring Virgin Australia’s total mainline fleet to 77 and will support hundreds of jobs across the business.
“With this extra fleet capacity, we will be well-positioned to reach our target share of 33 per cent of the domestic market, and service the destinations that our customers want with the frequency they expect,” she said.
Virgin Australia has also commenced planning for the mid-2023 arrival of its first Boeing 737 MAX 10 aircraft, which will deliver greater operational efficiencies and enhanced product and design features for customers and the environment.
It will be the first Boeing 737 MAX operated by an Australian airline, with Qantas yet to decide if its own domestic refresh will stick with Boeing’s new workhorse or shift to the Airbus A321neo family.
The MAX will also mark an evolution of Virgin’s fleet and its passenger experience, with new business class and economy seats expected to debut on the next-gen jet.
The MAX 10 can fly 3,300 nautical miles (about 6,000 kilometres) if equipped with an auxiliary fuel tank and seats around 200 passengers in a standard two-class layout.
Virgin plans to use the plane on high-density domestic and short-haul international routes, as well as routes that face limitations.
By Joe Cusmano