A Virgin ATR 72-500 bearing a French test registration. Photo: AirSpace user commercial aviation.
Another of Virgin Australia's poorly-kept secrets was made official today: Virgin's new ATR 72-500 aircraft, to be operated by Skywest, will be used initially on the east coast to commence new services in October to Gladstone and Brisbane to Port Macquarie. The ATR 72 will also from be deployed from October between Sydney and Port Macquarie and on some Sydney-Canberra services, replacing the Embraer E170 aircraft being transferred to Delta.
Virgin intends to offer double-daily services between Brisbane and Gladstone, a daily Sydney-Port Macquarie service, a daily Brisbane-Port Macquarie service, and up to six services between Sydney and Canberra. All are return services.
No specific date has been set and nor does Virgin have a date for when the first ATR will arrive in Australia, although earlier this month ATR said delivery would be in July. A May delivery was originally projected when the order for up to 18 aircraft was announced in February (a breakdown between firm orders and options has not been disclosed). Virgin will take four ATR 72-500s this year and four larger-capacity ATR 72-600s next year (have a peek at the new interior ATR offers on the -600).
Virgin also disclosed the exact capacity of the single-class aircraft: 68 seats. Based on other operators' ATR 72-500 configurations, Virgin will likely offer a 31"-32" seat pitch in line with the Qantas Dash 8 aircraft the ATR 72 will be competing against.
The first two aircraft will be named after beaches in north Queensland: Mission Beach and Four-Mile beach.
When Virgin then-Blue inked the deal with Skywest in January, the focus was on West Australia, although chief executive John Borghetti hinted at services on the east coast as well. Although Virgin promised details within a few months, no news was forthcoming except for reports it was likely to first use the aircraft to Gladstone, where Strategic is now flying to and Qantas is building a lounge for elite passengers. Virgin's prospective route raises the question if Strategic can stay on the service
Sydney-Canberra was also expected and is logical as a turboprop operation, due to navigation paths at Canberra airport, shaves 5-10 minutes off flight times compared to jet aircraft. The shorter flight times will bring some of Virgin's services in line with some of Qantas's.
The ATR aircraft will be leased from lessor Aviation with an initial term of 10 years, Virgin said.