Almost a decade after declaring that four engines were the only way to fly long haul with the introduction of his Airbus A340-600s, Sir Richard Branson finally joins the long-range twinjet club today (2 April) when Virgin Atlantic introduces its first A330-300 between Manchester and Orlando.
The 314 seater, dubbed "Beauty Queen" and appropriately registered G-VSXY, is the first of 10 A330s that Virgin will receive over the next two years. They will be deployed on routes from the UK to the US East Coast, east and West Africa, the Middle East and India.
In a remarkable declaration of the twinjet's efficiency over its four-engined sister, the A340-300, Virgin says the A330s will burn "15% less fuel per seat".
Like the airline's 19 larger A340-600s, the A330s will all be powered by Rolls-Royce Trents, but half as many! When the A340-600 made its debut at Farnborough in July 2002, Virgin adorned the Trents with the slogan "4 engines 4 long haul". Branson said that Virgin had found that 18% of travellers would "go out of their way" to fly on four-engined aircraft. 10 years on, with sky-high fuel prices, the increasing penalty of flying a quad clearly makes it a no-brainer to use a twin if it can do the same job. Just compare the sales fortunes of the A340-600 and Boeing 777-300ER to see that.
Virgin's first two A330s will be operated on leisure routes in a two-class layout seating 59 passengers in premium economy and 255 in economy. The remainder will have a three-class configuration through the addition of Virgin's Upper Class business cabin. They all feature Panasonic's latest IFE kit using touch screen technology, and on-board email/texting from mobile devices will be introduced later this year.
The A330s are the first of a new wave of long-range twinjets joining the Virgin fleet, with orders also held for 15 Boeing 787s. But this does not signal the end of new four-engined airliners for Virgin though, as it also has six A380s on order.