An Emirates A330 departs Dubai. Photo: AirSpace user Chipmunker
In a move to expand and bring profitability to long-haul subsidiary V Australia, the Virgin Blue Group is evaluating options to introduce at least six medium-sized widebody aircraft to its fleet by early next year, according to a source familiar with the matter.
"V Australia is in a position to expand and to expand rapidly, but not with the 777. Putting the 777 on the leisure routes does not work," the source says of V Australia's Boeing 777-300ER-only fleet serving Thailand's Phuket and Fiji's Nadi. "Even sending the B777 to Hong Kong and to Shanghai does not work when you're competing head on with A330s," the source says in reference to Qantas operating Airbus 330s to Asian ports including Hong Kong and Shanghai.
Earlier this year V Australia cancelled the last two B777-300ERs it had on order and hinted the B777 could be pulled off the Phuket and Nadi routes. While V Australia was expected to reach profitability by August 2010, the carrier says it is now not expected to do so until 2011 at the earliest.
There are two acquisition plans under consideration, the source says. The first is to lease Airbus A330-200s from Emirates, which the UAE carrier is withdrawing from its fleet starting early next year.
The second plan is to purchase new Boeing 767-300s. As part of the deal, if signed, Virgin Blue will be able to trade the B767s for Boeing B787s once the latter are available, the source says. It is understood Boeing has indicated to Virgin Blue that B767s currently being manufactured for other carriers could instead be delivered to Virgin Blue by February 2011.
Virgin Blue wants to have six frames operational by next February, the source says. The move will enable V Australia to focus its B777 fleet on ultra-long-haul destinations, such as its existing services to Los Angeles and Johannesburg, while adding new destinations to the network where the B777 would have provided too much capacity. It is likely Virgin Blue will want subsequent aircraft but details are not available.
The carrier currently has teams in Dubai and Seattle evaluating the options while head office is running the finances, the source says, adding a decision could be made soon. The A330 is currently preferred "due to availability more than anything else", the source says, and notes Virgin Blue CEO John Borghetti favours the aircraft based on his experiences with it when he was at Qantas.
A spokesman for the carrier says the report could "only be considered speculation at this time". He adds, "We are constantly examining and researching all options in terms of aircraft availability."
It is not known how long the lease on the Emirates A330-200s would be for or if Virgin Blue would look to replace them quickly with B787s.
While the widebody aircraft are expected to join Virgin Blue's fleet under the international V Australia banner, the source says it is expected they will also fly on domestic trunk routes. Although Virgin Blue's present domestic gate space at Sydney airport has been inadequate for widebody aircraft, the source says the airport has made "accommodations" and will be suitable for the A330 and B767. Details of the accommodations are not known.
The A330 or B767 would represent a new type to the company, but the source says Virgin Blue will be well equipped to handle them. When V Australia recruited its crew, many came from other carriers and have knowledge of the A330 in particular.
The source says it is also likely Virgin Blue's first B737 in a 3-class configuration will be delivered in two months. The spokesman was unable to confirm this. It is expected the aircraft will have either business, premium economy, and economy or premium economy, economy, and a lite economy.